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The top U.N. official in this nation ravaged by civil war and famine announced Thursday with tears glistening in his eyes that he was quitting the job he has held since April.

Mohamed Sahnoun, a veteran Algerian diplomat who has been critical of what he considers the United Nations' inadequate response to the famine, left Mogadishu immediately after announcing his resignation at a news conference at U.N. headquarters. He had coordinated food relief shipments and negotiations to stop clan warfare.Many aid officials and others saw Sahnoun's departure as a major setback in the international effort to save an estimated 2 million Somalis from starving.

Sahnoun, who was Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's special envoy to Somalia, said that until a successor is named the operation would be headed by Brig.

Gen. Imtaz Shaheen, the commander of U.N. peacekeeping troops in Somalia.

"I have come to say farewell to the press," Sahnoun told reporters.

He added that "despite bitter experiences with the U.N. bureaucracy," he would be willing to return to Somalia as a temporary U.N. envoy.

By Sahnoun's estimate, 300,000 people already have died in one of the worst famines on record. The United Nations says 250,000 more could perish before Christmas unless aid reaches them.

Sahnoun initially offered his resignation on Saturday after receiving a letter from Boutros-Ghali reprimanding him for publicly criticizing the United Nations.

Sahnoun frequently said a quicker U.N. intervention in Somalia would have saved lives, and he described some U.N. personnel sent to Somalia as inexperienced and inept.

On Tuesday, Sahnoun said he was reconsidering his resignation because of appeals from Somalis from all factions.

But Thursday he said he had received no response from Boutros-Ghali and was going ahead with his resignation. Sahnoun left Mogadishu on a U.N. jet for Nairobi, Kenya, and then on to Paris.

Foreign governments and aid agencies had appealed to him to stay on.

Private agencies including Save the Children-UK and CARE International also have criticized the U.N. effort in Somalia as too slow, too timid and too bureaucratic.

The five permanent members of the powerful U.N. Security Council had urged Sahnoun's retention, diplomats at the United Nations said earlier in the week.