Africa

Somalia famine aid workers shot dead

Internally displaced women queue for food rations at a feeding centre on 17 October 2011 in Mogadishu, Somalia
Image caption Aid groups are able to operate more freely in government-controlled Mogadishu

Three Somali aid workers distributing food to famine victims have been shot and killed, the UN has said.

Two of them worked for the UN World Food Programme, while the third worked for one of its partner organisations.

The attack took place in the central town of Mataban, which is controlled by Ahlu Sunnah - a militia which generally supports the government.

The Islamist al-Shabab group has banned most foreign aid agencies from the large swathes of territory it controls.

In custody

The World Food Programme (WFP) said it was not clear why the gunmen had opened fire on the aid workers.

An eyewitness told the Associated Press news agency that the shooting had taken place at a camp for displaced people.

According to a WFP statement, the gunman gave himself up and is now in custody.

The WFP says 17 of its aid workers have been killed since 2008 in Somalia, which has been racked by violence between rival militias for two decades.

The region is suffering from its worst drought in 60 years - and tens of thousands of Somalis have fled rural areas - many over the borders to Ethiopia and Kenya - in search of food.

Last month, the UN said that famine no longer existed in three of Somalia's six worst-affected areas.

However, it said a quarter of a million people still faced imminent starvation in the country.

The areas worst hit by famine are in the south and centre, which are under the control of the al-Qaeda linked al-Shabab group.

Three other areas, including the squalid camps in the capital, Mogadishu - which is controlled by the weak UN-backed interim government, remain in a state of famine.

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