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Kenya-Somalia border sees heavy fighting

NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- Al-Shabaab tried to recapture territory from Somali government-allied militias in heavy fighting along the Kenya-Somalia border, The New York Times reported.

The al-Shabaab Somali Islamist militant group also is breaking up camps for Somalia famine victims, sending tens of thousands of starving people back to drought-stricken areas, the Times reported Friday.

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While al-Shabaab says it will provide enough food to last until the next harvest around January, many aid officials expressed concern.

"This is a nightmare," said a U.N. official who asked not to be identified. "It has been hard enough to access famine victims in Shabaab areas, and now that the people have been scattered, that means more checkpoints, more local authorities to deal with, more negotiations."

The militant group controls much of the southern third of Somalia, an area hard hit by famine caused by drought and war.

Tens of thousands of people, mostly children, have died, the United Nations says, and 750,000 are at risk of starving in the next few months unless aid is increased quickly.

The Times said al-Shabaab has stopped most large Western aid agencies from operating in areas the group controls.

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Al-Shabaab has set up some camps to feed starving people and sometimes forced people to live in the camps.

But last week, the group said it was closing several of the camps and its fighters ordered tens of thousands of people to return to their farms to plant crops before the rainy season, expected to start in a few weeks, as part of what al-Shabaab called a "resettlement program."

After al-Shabaab closed a camp in Buurhakaba, many decided to flee to Kenya.

"There is no way for people to return home because back there, there's nothing to eat," Sultan Said, a resident of Buurhakaba, said by telephone.

And at camps run by al-Shabaab, he said, food was in short supply because al-Shabaab fighters had been stealing it.

"They're starving too," Said said.

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