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Hundreds hungry as violence returns

The U.S. involvement in Somalia began last Dec. 9 when hundreds of Marines landed on the beach at Mogadishu to protect the relief effort.

Most aid agencies welcomed them. Two years of civil war had reduced the country to a state of anarchy, and food and medicine for the needy rarely made it past the port without being looted.

Famine caused by war and drought had killed an estimated 350,000 people, and 2-million more were in danger of starvation.

The situation quickly improved as the U.S.-led multinational force of 38,300 troops secured airports and ports, allowing aid to arrive safely, and patrolled highways to ensure the food reached its destination.

Daily death counts that had reached 300 to 400 in some cities dropped into the teens and eventually were no longer a factor as malnutrition was quelled.

But the renewed violence changed all that. Once again, hundreds of Somalis are going hungry.

Nearly all foreign relief workers were evacuated from Mogadishu as a precaution after last Saturday's ambush on U.N. peacekeepers left 23 Pakistani troops dead.

The aid workers who stayed behind were sheltered indoors, unable to do their usual field work.

As a result, 35 food distribution sites in Mogadishu were closed. They had been open six days a week and handed out enough food each day to feed about 600,000 people. Nearly 80 percent of Mogadishu's residents still depend on food handouts.

"This is without a doubt the worst setback to humanitarian efforts," Mike McDonagh of the relief agency Irish Concern said Thursday. "What's happening now is a large section of the population which was in good health and finally getting guaranteed food every day has not had food for four or five days."

Market prices for staples such as rice and beans have tripled because of the sudden drop in supplies.

Truck convoys that were moving 2,500 metric tons of food a week to far-flung areas such as Baidoa and Kismayu also stopped.

Most rural areas had enough stocks to last several days before anyone went hungry, but the effects of the crisis on food deliveries could be permanent, said Gemmo Lodesani of the World Food Program.

Irish Concern closed several Mogadishu schools it operated, and the aid agency Oxfam was forced to halt flood-control projects and farming programs in the countryside because of logistical and staff problems.

Even if the crisis passes, McDonagh and other aid workers said the damage done to relief efforts might be insurmountable. Those who have been evacuated might not want to return out of fear and out of anger at the violence they faced from people they were trying to help.

Troops in Somalia

U.S.-led effort: Hundreds of U.S. Marines landed on Dec. 9, 1992; at the height of Operation Restore Hope in January, there were 38,300 troops from 24 nations, including 25,800 from the United States.

Current U.N. effort: The United States turned over command of the multinational operation to the United Nations on May 4. There now are 18,340 U.N. troops. Some 4,200 U.S. troops stayed behind to help, including a 1,200-man rapid reaction force based near the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu.