NAIROBI, Kenya — In announcing a pullout from Somalia after 22 years, Doctors Without Borders said Wednesday that armed groups are killing and abducting aid workers. And in a scathing indictment of Somalia’s leadership, the aid group accused civilian leaders of condoning or even supporting the attacks.
The pullout goes against the narrative of a Somalia emerging from decades of anarchy and violence amid military gains against Islamist insurgents, but it underscores the violence that persists. About two dozen local journalists have been killed since the start of 2012. In June, a truck bomb and gunfire attack on the main U.N. compound in Mogadishu killed eight U.N. employees and five Somali civilians.
Doctors Without Borders, the winner of the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize and known by its French initials as MSF, said the pullout will cut off hundreds of thousands of Somali civilians from humanitarian aid. For example, in Mogadishu, MSF runs the only pediatric intensive care unit, while in Jowhar, women will have nowhere to go for emergency Caesarean sections.
The decision comes after the release from prison of a Somali man convicted of killing two MSF staff. In December 2011 a Somali employee of MSF who recently learned his contract would not be renewed shot and killed a Belgian and an Indonesian worker at an MSF compound. Though the shooter was convicted and sentenced to 30 years, authorities released him from prison after only three months, MSF said.
Since 1991, dozens of attacks resulted in the deaths of 16 Doctors Without Borders staff in Somalia. Two MSF employees who were kidnapped in a Kenyan refugee camp near the border and held in Somalia for almost two years were released last month.
In a blunt statement, MSF denounced “extreme attacks on its staff in an environment where armed groups and civilian leaders increasingly support, tolerate, or condone the killing, assaulting, and abducting of humanitarian aid workers.”
“In choosing to kill, attack, and abduct humanitarian aid workers, these armed groups, and the civilian authorities who tolerate their actions, have sealed the fate of countless lives in Somalia,” said Dr. Unni Karunakara, MSF’s international president.
At a Nairobi press conference he did not elaborate on the accusation or present evidence. Somali government leaders in Mogadishu declined to comment.