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Now rains add to famine misery

Tens of thousands of famine-stricken Somali refugees were cold and drenched after torrential rains pounded their makeshift structures in the capital, leading to appeals for aid.

Rains are needed to plant crops and alleviate the drought that has led to famine in Somalia, but they added to the misery of many refugees who live in structures made of sticks, flattened milk cans and pieces of cloth.

Aid agencies have limited reach in Somalia where Islamist militants are waging an insurgency against the country's weak UN-backed government.

The most dangerous group among the militants - the al Qaida-linked al-Shabab -has barred major relief organisations from operating in the territories it controls.

The UN fears tens of thousands already have died in Somalia in areas held by the Islamist rebels because food aid could not reach them.

The African Union peacekeeping force anticipates that al-Shabab may try to attack the camps that now house tens of thousands of famine refugees in Mogadishu, disrupting even further the distribution of food aid. The AU force launched a new offensive on Thursday to push the militants' front line farther back from the camps.

The drought and the famine it has caused in Somalia have affected more than 11.8 million people in the Horn of Africa and created a triangle of hunger where the borders of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia meet.

The World Program says it cannot reach 2.2 million Somalis who live in al-Shabab controlled territory in south-central Somalia.

Pope Benedict XVI urged the world not to forget to the victims of famine in the Horn of Africa during his weekly blessing to pilgrims.

"It is forbidden to be indifferent in the face of the tragedy of the starving," the pope said from his summer residence in Castelgandolfo, south of Rome, Italy.

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