updated 7/15/2008 2:46:27 PM ET 2008-07-15T18:46:27

A World Food Program contractor was gunned down in the fifth fatal attack this year on one of the agency's workers, the agency said Tuesday as thousands of Somalis gathered to protest the assaults.

Most members of the crowd that assembled outside the capital, Mogadishu, had been driven from their homes by the country's seemingly unending violence.

"We have been forced to live in the open, we have no shelter from the sun and the rain, and now they are killing and abducting our helpers?" said protester Said Dahiro. "It is unacceptable."

The Somali staff member of a WFP-contracted trucking company was shot in the southern town of Buale on Sunday, WFP Country Director Peter Goossens said.

The victim, who had been working to help WFP shipments pass militia checkpoints, was the fifth staff member of a WFP-contracted trucking company killed in Somalia this year, Goossens said.

"We condemn these shootings, and are very concerned that growing insecurity threatens to sabotage the humanitarian response in Somalia," Goossens said.

Violence against aid workers in Somalia has dramatically increased in the past few weeks. In addition to the killings, at least five aid workers have been kidnapped recently.

It is unclear who is behind the killings, since many factions in Somalia's chaotic war stand to benefit from them.

Powerful local leaders have previously complained that aid workers are feeding Islamic insurgents who had sworn to fight the government. Insurgents have also targeted Somalis affiliated with foreign organizations in the past. The problem has been compounded by the growth of professional kidnapping rings, who security experts say have been encouraged by the large ransoms paid by foreigners to release ships taken by pirates.

The Islamists vowed to fight an Iraq-style insurgency against the government and its Ethiopian allies in December 2006, after Ethiopian troops dislodged the Islamists from the capital and much of the territory in southern Somalia they had held for six months.

Thousands of civilians have been killed in the fighting and hundreds of thousands have fled the capital. Over 2 million people in the arid, impoverished country are dependent on food aid. Control of aid, used to buy loyalty from militiamen, has often provoked fighting among Somalia's powerful clan-based warlords since they toppled a socialist dictator in 1991. The country has not had a functioning government since then.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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