NAIROBI, December 23 – A gunman on Friday killed three aid workers including two World Food Programme employees in central Somalia, a WFP official said, the latest attack against humanitarian officials in the war-torn nation.
“An individual opened fire killing outright one WFP staff member and a man working for a cooperating partner. A second WFP staff member was shot and later died as a result of his injuries,” WFP said in a statement.
Local residents identified all three as Somalis.
The attack took place near the settlement of Mataban, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the Ethiopian border in central Somalia’s Hiran region, a frontline area between hardline Shabaab Islamists and rival militia.
“The individual then gave himself up and is currently in the custody of the local authorities,” WFP said.
WFP has temporarily suspended its operations in the area, where it has been working since 2009.
The motive of the attack was not immediately clear, but the area is awash with rival militia groups and close to areas controlled by the Al-Qaeda linked Al Shabaab.
“The men were attacked on their way to a camp, two of them died in the spot and another died later,” said Saleban Ahmed, a witness told AFP by telephone.
Al Shabaab insurgents control large parts of central and southern Somalia but are facing increasing pressure from government forces and regional armies.
Somalia is one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers.
The Shabaab have imposed draconian restrictions on international aid agencies operating in the areas they control, large parts of which were declared famine zones earlier this year.
Three regions of south Somalia are still in a state of famine, and close on 250,000 people are in danger of dying of starvation, according to the UN.
Shabaab insurgents are facing increasing pressure from regional armies and government forces, with the rebels leaving fixed positions in Mogadishu in favour of guerrilla tactics.
Ethiopian soldiers were reported to have crossed into the Hiran region last month, although Addis Ababa has denied its forces crossed the border.
Kenyan forces are battling the rebels in the far south, after sending troops across the border in October.
Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti have all contributed to a 10,000-strong African Union force protecting the weak Western-backed Somali government from the rebels in the capital Mogadishu.
The Horn of Africa country has been ravaged by a nearly uninterrupted civil war since the 1991 ouster of president Siad Barre sparked vicious bloodletting by rival militias fighting for power.