30 September 2006

Kenya: Troops Put On Alert As Tensions Rise in Somalia

Nairobi — Kenya has put its armed forces on high alert following the deterioration of security in neighbouring Somalia, it was learnt yesterday.

They are maintaining a round-the-clock surveillance on the border, confirmed Foreign Affairs assistant minister Moses Wetang'ula.

A woman and her children seek shelter at the Dadaab refugee camp. At least 25,000 new refugees are believed to have entered Kenya after a wave of violence in Somalia. Photo/Correspondent

In addition the Government has ordered the Navy, Kenya Ports Authority and the marine police to monitor all shipping in Kenya's territorial waters, said Mombasa DC Mohammed Maalim.

Only ships authorised to ply within the country's current 200 nautical miles limit would be allowed in Kenya's territorial waters because of the current insecurity in Somalia, he added.

In addition Kenya was extending its territorial limit by 150 kms to 350kms,

"In this era of terrorism and piracy, we want all stakeholders to join hands with the Government so that we can make our sea waters safe," he said during celebrations to mark Maritime Day.

The presence of small arms in Kenya had been blamed on the failure to police the 600-kms coastline, said Mr Maalim. Announcing the increase in security on the Kenya-Somalia border, Mr Wetang'ula could not however confirm reports attributed to Somalia's prime minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi that both Kenya and Ethiopia were prepared to protect Baidoa - the fledging government's seat of power - from any possible attack by the Islamist group that is making rapid advances in the country.

Mr Ghedi's government controls only a small area around the town of Baidoa, while the Union of Islamic Courts has taken a large swathe of the land to the south.

Survival of Government

"As Igad and the region, we have a moral and legal authority to ensure the survival of the Transitional National Government of Somalia," Mr Wetang'ula said.

But this did not necessarily mean military support, he added.

He said he did not want to comment on Mr Ghedi's remarks, which had been aired on BBC radio earlier in the day.

The assistant minister however said the position of Igad - the Inter Governmental Authority on Development - that it would send peacekeeping forces to the war-torn country had not changed.

He would not say how soon the first batch of peacekeepers from Sudan and Uganda would enter Somalia. The logistics were being worked out, he said.

Earlier this month, the African Union agreed to a request by the transitional government to send in a regional peacekeeping force.

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua commented yesterday that Kenya did not have a policy of invading other countries.

But he added: "We are concerned about the flow of refugees from Somalia to Kenya which is an indication of the level of escalation in Somalia."

Kenya was working with both sides to the Somalia conflict to find a solution to their problems but it was true that Kenya had been mandated by Igad to support the Somali Transitional Government.

Mr Ghedi earlier denied that Ethiopian troops were already in Baidoa but he told the BBC that both countries' forces were "on alert".

The Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) has denied accusations that it is linked to the terrorist organisation al-Qaeda.

This week the group seized the key port of Kismayu, where it has reportedly closed a local radio station, following three days of anti-Islamist protests.

The UIC says it took Kismayu to prevent it being used to bring foreign peacekeepers into the country, as requested by the interim government.

Mr Ghedi told the BBC's Network Africa programme: "The security of Somalia is linked with the security of neighbouring countries."

He added: "Ethiopian troops, as well as Kenyan troops, are on alert, if any external or internal forces try to attack the Transitional Federal Government and its temporary seat in Baidoa."

Attacking Baidoa

One of the Islamist leaders, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, was quoted by the London-based Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper as saying the group had no intention of attacking Baidoa.

However, he was also quoted as saying he would not tolerate the presence of Ethiopian troops there.

Mr Ghedi also said that the transitional government was ready to hold peace talks with the UIC, if it wanted dialogue.

It was not clear whether peace talks scheduled for this weekend in Sudan were still to take place.

Mr Ghedi's government was set up in 2004 after two years of peace talks in Kenya. Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991.

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