The U.N. World Food Program says it is investigating the alleged theft of food aid brought into famine-stricken Somalia.
The WFP released a statement Monday following an Associated Press report that said thousands of sacks of food meant for famine victims have been stolen. The report said the food sacks, stamped as coming from the WFP or the U.S. and Japanese governments, are being sold in markets of the capital, Mogadishu.
The WFP said it “rejects the scale of diversions” alleged in the AP report. But it said WFP monitors have uncovered possible theft of food that is being investigated. The agency said it will suspend any party found responsible.
International aid officials have expected some food aid to be diverted. Stolen food was the main reason the U.S. sent troops to Somalia during the country's 1992 famine.
But the WFP Monday condemned those, who in its words, “would use the desperation of the hungry in Somali to block, attack, or divert life-saving humanitarian supplies for their own benefit.”
The U.N. says more than 12 million people across the Horn of Africa are in need of food aid, including more than three million in Somalia, the epicenter of the drought.
Hundreds of thousands of desperate Somalis have fled to camps in Mogadishu or neighboring countries in search of food and water.
U.N. and international aid agencies have increased the flow of aid to Somalia since militant group al-Shabab withdrew its fighters from Mogadishu August 6. Al-Shabab bans most aid groups from territory it controls, and still controls much of southern and central Somalia.
Earlier Monday, China's official news agency said Premier Wen Jiabao has pledged $55 million in food aid for Horn of Africa nations, on top of some $20 million in earlier donations.
The United States has pledged more than $500 million in food aid and refugee assistance.