The Somali government fired one official and suspended another in recent weeks over missing food aid meant for families fleeing the country's worst famine in a generation, an official said Tuesday.
The arrests are the first sign that government officials are trying to tackle the theft of food aid, which is rife among aid agency staff, government officials and private individuals. The Associated Press reported in August that around half of food aid delivered to Mogadishu that month had been stolen.
In recent weeks, the district commissioner of Mogadishu's Hamar Jajab neighborhood, Bashir Abdi Nur, was fired following investigations into an incident where a warehouse was broken into and looted on Aug. 30, said government spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman.
The district commissioner in Karan, Abdullahi Mohamed Robleh, was suspended following looting incidents in September and assaults on women collecting food, Osman said. Investigations are ongoing into those incidents.
Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said more officials are under investigation and the government takes the problem seriously.
"We will not allow anyone to steal food aid," Ali said Monday. "We will have zero tolerance for corruption."
But many factors complicate the government's ability to carry out a crackdown.
District commissioners are very powerful in the capital of Mogadishu, and many maintain their own militias, who often clash with poorly paid government troops. Police officers do not receive regular salaries, said Ali, hampering their ability to carry out investigations. Donors have allocated salary money but not released it.
Nearly half a million children in Somalia are acutely malnourished and the U.N. says tens of thousands of Somalis have already died in southern Somalia.
The region was hit by a devastating drought, and Islamist militias banned many aid agencies from operating in their areas. Around 4 million people _ more than half the population _ need food aid, according to the U.N.