25 October 2011

Kenya: Local Troops Not Welcome in Somalia

Photo: William Oeri/Nation
Somali refugees being ferried to Dadaab from Liboi as Kenyan troops gear up for a major offensive against Al Shabaab militants at Afmadow.

Somalia's President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed yesterday said his country was opposed to the incursion of Kenyan troops into Somalia, in pursuit of al-Shabaab militiamen. Ahmed said Kenyan support in terms of training and logistics was welcome but his government and the people of Somalia were opposed to the presence of the Kenyan army in their country.

He described Kenya's move as "inappropriate and unacceptable." His comments come eight days after Kenyan troops crossed the border. Security experts say the remarks now puts Kenya in a difficult situation, and raises questions about how the two countries are cooperating. Nairobi had said the deployment was done with the approval ofSomali authorities.

It was however observed that Ahmed may have spoken out against Kenya because Somalia is opposed to Kenya's attempts to create a semi-autonomous region of Jubaland to act as a buffer zone between its border and al-Shabaab controlled territory. France yesterday issued a statement to deny claims by the Kenyan military that it had joined the war. The military had claimed that French naval vesels had bombed two places in Kismayu on Saturday.

The US has also denied involvement, although American drones are said to have dropped bombs in Ras Kamboni last week. Al-Shabaab rebels have vowed to retaliate the incursion by carrying out terrorist attacks in Nairobi. Twelve people were injured yesterday morning when a grenade exploded in a bar along Mfangano street in Nairobi (see story page 6).

Defence minister Yusuf Haji yesterday held a meeting with prominent Somali personalities at the Sir Ali Muslim club in Nairobi to explain the decision to enter Somalia. He described al-Shabaab as "the enemy" and urged the community to support the Kenyan military's initiative. Deputy speaker of the National Assembly Farah Maalim said: "We will deal with them (al-Shabaab) as a government, as a country."

Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka urged the United Nations to step in and help bring stability in the troubled Somalia. Kalonzo said the war and the humanitarian crisis in Somalia was not only a threat to international peace and security but also tainting the credibility of the UN. "The dramatic developments in Somalia in the last few weeks have however opened a window of opportunity for the UN to seize in returning normalcy to this African country that has not known peace for the past 21 years," the VP said.

He said African countries were already taking responsibility and committing both human and financial resources to help end conflict in Somalia so as to guarantee the region long lasting peace to bring sustainable development. "However the UN especially the UN Security Council has a very vital role to play in determining how quickly we can bring an end the suffering that the people of Somalia have been condemned to for the last 21 years," he added.

He further called on the rest of African countries to add their input and support to Kenya, and AU forces that are backing the transitional government's military in their quest to restore peace. Kalonzo was speaking during the celebrations of the 66 United Nations Day at UN headquarters in Nairobi yesterday.

Meanwhile, seven Kenyan fishermen being held in Mogadishu at the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amison), are being treated as suspects for allegedly aiding militia to secure passage into Kenya and also transport illegal weapons. The Kenyans, who were lost at sea for over 10 days before being rescued by the Burundi and Rwandan forces, claimed to have been attacked by pirates, but their statements have left doubt among the investigators.

Sources claimed some of the Kenyans admitted that they were heading to Somalia, while some maintained the fishermen theory. The discovery of weapons on their boat also led them being suspected of engaging in smuggling activities. Already, the chairman of the Beach Management Unit (BMU), Mohammed Awadh, who is also a security officer at the Kenya Ports Authority, is being interrogated over his links with the group.

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