EU executive says aid payments for Somalia 'temporarily suspended'

By Gabriela Baczynska

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -The European Union's executive said on Tuesday that disbursements of humanitarian aid in Somalia were "temporarily suspended" after a U.N. probe found widespread theft and misuse of support meant to avert famine.

Quoting senior EU officials, Reuters reported exclusively on Monday that the European Commission had temporarily suspended funding for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Somalia because of the U.N. findings.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the European Commission, Balazs Ujvari, confirmed the temporary suspension.

"The Commission has not asked for the suspension of humanitarian operations in Somalia: as per standard procedures, the ongoing operations have received a pre-financing of 80% and can still be implemented through this initial funding," he said.

"Nevertheless, in view of the issues communicated by the report concerned, the Commission had to take some precautionary measures to safeguard the EU funds and therefore further disbursements are temporarily suspended until clarifications and reassurance are provided as regards the resolution of the identified issues."

The U.N. investigation concluded that landowners, local authorities, members of the security forces and humanitarian workers were all involved in stealing aid intended for vulnerable people.

Two Somalis who reached the Muri camp in the capital Mogadishu after fleeing hunger and conflict in the countryside told Reuters local officials stripped them of the aid.

Donors boosted funding to Somalia last year as humanitarian officials warned of a looming famine due to the Horn of Africa's worst drought in decades. As many as 43,000 people died last year as a result of the drought, researchers estimate.

The U.N. humanitarian aid budget for Somalia is envisaged at 72 million euros ($77 million), of which 10 million euros ($10.68 million) are earmarked for the WFP.

The United States is by far Somalia's biggest humanitarian donor. Last year, it contributed more than half of the $2.2 billion of funding that went to the humanitarian response there.

Three months ago the WFP and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) suspended food aid to neighboring Ethiopia in response to a widespread diversion of donations.

A USAID official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Monday the situations in Ethiopia and Somalia were different and the agency was not planning to pause food assistance in the latter.

($1 = 0.9363 euros)

($1 = 0.9364 euros)

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Howard Goller)