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Friday, 18 October, 2002, 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK
Terror slur threatens Somali cash lifeline
Somali refugees
Somalis depend on cash transfers from overseas
United Nations officials have launched a programme to explain to US bankers and regulators how Somali money transfer agencies operate.

Last November, following the 11 September attacks, US authorities raided several of the agencies and froze their assets after accusing them of funnelling money to Osama bin Laden.

A new UN report says Somalis have used the agencies, or hawalas, to send about $7m (4.5m) a month to poor relatives in the war-torn East African country, which has no banking system.

The campaign was launched in Minneapolis, which has the largest Somali community in the US.

The UN has removed two Minneapolis agencies and one of their owners from a sanctions list at the request of US authorities.

Investigations have shown the agencies had no knowledge of contact with terrorist groups and had cut ties to those suspected of such involvement.

Educating authorities

The UN wants to help the US understand that the service the agencies provide is critical to preventing a humanitarian disaster in Somalia.

"We are trying to keep the lifeline open," said Andrea Tamagnini, country director of the Kenya-based UN Development Program for Somalia.

"By maintaining this lifeline, we can prevent a humanitarian crisis, really prevent it, rather than respond to it," Ms Tamagnini said.

The UN is also teaching operators of the agencies how to comply with US state and federal laws, so they can defend their business activities.

The number of hawalas has grown after the US shut down Al-Barakaat, the largest of the targeted remittance companies.

Agencies in Boston, Seattle, Washington, and Columbus, Ohio, also had their assets frozen.

See also:

03 Sep 02 | Business
27 Aug 02 | September 11 one year on
23 Nov 01 | Africa
08 Nov 01 | Africa
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