Doctors Without Borders pulls out of Somalia amid growing insecurity

NAIROBI (AFP) - Medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF) closed all its operations in war-torn Somalia on Wednesday, warning of growing insecurity, after 22 years of working in the Horn of Africa troublespot.

"The closure of our activities is a direct result of extreme attacks on our staff, in an environment where armed groups and civilian leaders increasingly support, tolerate, or condone the killing, assaulting, and abducting of humanitarian aid workers," MSF president Unni Karunakara told reporters.

The pullout by MSF, an aid agency that has earned a reputation for working in the toughest of conditions, is major blow to the reputation of the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu.

"We are ending our programmes in Somalia because there is an increasing imbalance between the risks and compromises that our staff must make, and our ability to provide impartial care to the Somali people," Mr Karunakara said in the Kenyan capital.

Mr Karunakara, who said MSF's activities had been put under "unparallelled levels of risk", cited the killing of two staff in Mogadishu in December 2011 - and subsequent release of the gunman - as well as the kidnapping of two MSF workers from the Kenyan refugee camp Dadaab in October 2011.

The two kidnapped staff, Spanish women working as logisticians, were released in Somalia last month after 21 months in captivity.

The closure of MSF medical operations in 11 sites - including Mogadishu and flashpoint cities such as the contested southern port of Kismayo - will impact hundreds of thousands of the most needy Somalis, he added.

"Already receiving far less assistance than is needed, the armed groups' targeting of humanitarian aid, and civilians leaders' tolerance of these abuses, has effectively taken away what little access to medical care is available to the Somali people," Mr Karunakara said.

Last year, MSF's more than 1,500 staff provided over 624,000 medical consultations and admitted more than 41,000 patients to hospitals.