The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Did Kibaki Oppose Somalia Invasion?

WAS President Kibaki reluctant to allow the military to enter Somalia in pursuit of al-Shabaab? According to the latest issue of the Indian Ocean Newsletter, President Kibaki was hesitant to approve the incursion. The ION is a Paris based newsletter rumoured to have close ties to French intelligence.

Yesterday there was another grenade attach on a military vehicle in Garissa. "President Mwai Kibaki hesitated before giving the green light for this operation and only did so after being bombarded with arguments from his main heads of security and defence," the ION writes.

"The team that worked on persuading him consisted of the ministers Yusuf Haji (defence), George Saitoti (inland security sic), the Kenyan Army Chief of Defence Forces Julius Karangi, the head of Intelligence Services Michael Gichangi and the Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere," the ION claims.

"During a meeting with President Kibaki, they all assured him that the security and sovereignty of the country would be endangered by the recent kidnappings attributed to the Somalian Islamists and that it was necessary to respond with a large scale military operation," said the newsletter. (See full text of ION story on Page III of Siasa section).

"Kibaki insisted that this incursion should be swift without Kenyans making a lengthy stay in Somalia, so as not to provoke reprisal attacks in Kenya," said the ION.

Yesterday at an executive session of the Commonwealth Heads of State in Australia , President Kibaki said that Kenya had no intentions of keeping troops in Somalia longer than is necessary.

President Kibaki informed the session, chaired by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, that the mission in Somalia is meant to deal with the continued threat posed by al-Shabaab to Kenya's security and economic interests. "Our mission in Somalia is therefore, based on a legitimate right to protect Kenya 's sovereignty and territorial integrity," said Kibaki.

He called on the African Union, IGAD and the Somali Transitional Federal Government to create safe zones within Somalia and on the international community to support efforts towards stabilizing Somalia. "Kenya can no longer bear the burden of hosting the massive number of refugees in the country and calls upon the Commonwealth to support efforts to facilitate their return to Somalia or relocation to another country", the President said.

Yesterday afternoon three GSU officers were seriously injured when their lorry hit a land mine at 2pm at Modika,10km from Garissa town.

The lorry which was in a convoy of seven vehicles returning from Liboi at the border. "We received three patients who are police officers. Two of them sustained serious burns and fractures. We have taken them to the theatre for surgery, the other one received minor body injuries," said medical superintendent Dr. Musa Mohamed at Garissa provincial hospital.

"Our 3 officers who were today injured when the lorry they travelling in from Liboi steeped on a land mine exploded will later today be airlifted to Nairobi at the forces memorial for further treatment," said Northeastern Provincial police boss Leo Nyongesa.

Internal Security Minister George Saitoti yesterday denied that Kenya was planning to occupy Somalia under the guise of fighting terrorism. "We have never nursed territorial ambitions to annex Somalia or take their land. The Kenya Government is simply standing its mandate to defend the country and its people," he said at a fundraiser at the Holy Family Basilica, Nairobi.

He said the troops would soon come home and Kenya had not entered a permanent conflict with al-Shabaab. He denied that Kenya might hold talks with the Somali militant group. "The key thing is we are not ready to negotiate with them because they have criminal intentions," he said.

Defence minister Yusuf Haji also said he was not aware of any possibility of talks between the government and al Shabaab, at a joint press conference with Chief of General Staff Julius Karangi and US ambassador Scott Gration at defence headquarters.

Gration said the USA is ready to help Kenya defend its borders if it receives specific requests but is not involved with the ongoing military operation in Somalia. "I am not aware of any talks with Al Shabaab. If I knew, I would be telling you in the same way I have told you we have crossed into Somalia in pursuit of Al Shabaab," Haji said.

Assistant foreign affairs minister Richard Onyonka told Parliament on Thursday that Kenya has frequently been in touch with al Shabaab.

Haji said Kenya is still awaiting official clarification from the Somali president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed on his Monday press statement that Kenyan troops are not welcome in Somalia. Sharif reportedly later clarified that his government agrees with Kenya on the need to eliminate the militants.

Haji said Kenya would not need additional manpower for operation Linda Nchi but said the soldier in Somalia might be rotated although the numbers are likely to remain the same. He did not indicate when Kenya will pull out of Somali or what exit strategy is being considered.

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