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Aid convoys brave gunmen to reach hungry Somalis

Written by: Staff

WAJID, Somalia, Apr 4 (Reuters) Just before he begins his perilous drive, Cheikh Ibrahim Khalil says a prayer.

He knows the journey ahead will take him across Somalia's barren and dangerous routes, where he will be stopped by gunmen at numerous roadblocks.

Armed with sub-machineguns and knives, they will demand money.

Sometimes, militias loot the maize, sorghum or cooking oil his convoy is carrying for families, hungry since drought ravaged their crops and killed their cattle.

''Every night I pray. There are certain areas which I know will be OK, but there are others that are more dangerous,'' he said dressed in a Somali macawis, a loose-fitting sarong.

''There is always a problem with illegal checkpoints and the groups who control different areas. Sometimes we have agreements with them to cross their territory peacefully. You have to negotiate and pay them.'' Khalil, a father of 10 and husband to two wives, operates a transport company working for the World Food Programme, the UN food agency, delivering aid in southern Somalia.

Poor rains in the past three seasons and the worst harvest in a decade have left 1.4 million people in the south of the Horn of Africa country short of food.

Khalil owns 20 trucks, travelling as far as 250 km from the WFP southwestern base in Wajid, a rare oasis of calm in the anarchic country.

More than 2 million Somalis face food shortages and residents fear frequent gun battles in a country where rival warlords have held sway since military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991 could worsen the crisis.

LOGISTICAL NIGHTMARE Insecurity is hampering aid efforts and the WFP says delivering food to the needy in a country that barely functions is a logistical nightmare.

More Reuters DKS BD0917

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