Somalia, devastated by decades of civil war, lawlessness, famine and drought, is one of the more inhospitable places in the world. Now it has become all the more deadly with the refusal of al-Shabab Islamist militants to permit lifesaving food supplies to be distributed to hundreds of thousands of starving countrymen. While the militants withdrew from the Somali capital Saturday, they still control much of southern Somalia. The United Nations, along with African Union peacekeepers, cannot wait to act to bring relief to the region. A rogue gang of extremists with links to al-Qaida terrorists cannot be permitted to allow as many as 500,000 children to starve to death.
The images and stories of brutality at the hands of al-Shabab are devastating: malnourished children with distended stomachs, horrific tales of gang rapes and reports of mass murder in one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent memory.
Al-Shabab won't permit aid workers into parts of the country, and it won't permit those trying to escape the chaos to leave. It is time for the international community to step up its efforts to save the lives of innocents caught in the crosshairs of ignorance and ideology.
The United Nations and many nongovernmental aid organizations are poised to provide help, if only they can gain entry to Somalia. This is the African Union's moment to prove it can act in the best interests of the continent as a positive force for human rights.