Kenya Writes to AU Over Bula Hawa Fight Between Somalia Forces

25 January 2021

Kenya on Monday wrote to the African Union (AU), raising security concerns after Somalia's federal and regional forces renewed fighting at Bula Hawa in Gedo near Mandera County.

Nairobi said the fighting is likely to create a security crisis for Kenya, especially since the two countries no longer have diplomatic relations.

"Kenya's primary concern is that the renewed fighting engenders large-scale displacement of civilians inside Somalia and increasingly generates large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers to Kenya, therefore aggravating the already dire humanitarian situation in Somalia and in the refugee camps in Kenya," said a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"Kenya is concerned that if the fighting continues unabated, the situation could further destabilise the region, complicate the security situation and reverse gains made in the fight against terrorism."

Following the fighting, government offices and business premises in Mandera town remained closed for the better part of the day.

Women and children were seen fleeing towards the Kenya-Ethiopia border and later crossing into Suftu for safety.

"I cannot wait to die. I am going to Ethiopia with my children until the situation normalises," said Ms Halima Alio.

Jubbaland minister

Kenya's letter came after normal business was disrupted in Mandera town for the better part of Monday as two rival Somalia military forces fought on the Somalia side.

The two forces began their battle at about 1am, with the fight going on throughout the day.

Soldiers of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) have been camping at Bula Hawa town since last March after uprooting Jubbaland forces loyal to Abdirashid Hassan Abdinur alias Abdirashid Janan.

Mr Abdirashid Janan is a Jubbaland minister for Security who is wanted by Mogadishu.

After being overpowered in March, Mr Janan and his army crossed into Kenya, finding a hiding place in Mandera town.

Since then, he has been planning to recapture Bula Hawa, a town neighbouring Mandera.

The wanted minister, now declared a fugitive, has been reinforcing his team and getting more weaponry from Kismayu.

Kenya accused

On Monday morning, Somalia's Information Minister Abukar Dubbe claimed Mogadishu blocked illegal importation of weapons by some "local and foreign entities".

The Somali version of his statement, however, accused Kenya of siding with Janan's rebels.

"Kenyan troops and rebels attacked Bula Hawa (Beled Hawo) in the middle of the night as they crossed the border to seize the key town, which is damaging to the sovereignty of our country. Nearly 100 prisoners (of war) have been captured in the fighting, and they have been defeated."

Somalia made similar claims two weeks ago to a delegation nominated by Djibouti President Ismael Guelleh to help iron out a tiff between Kenya and Somalia.

However, Somali authorities did not take the delegation to Gedo, the alleged location of militia camps said to be supported by Kenya.

Instead, Kenya rejected the claims and showed the delegation satellite images of Somalia's military deployment closer to the border with Kenya -- as close as 20 metres away.

Nairobi told the delegation that Somalia's forces were provoking it but argued the tiff between Jubbaland and the Somali National Forces is a Somalia issue.

During the separate sessions, it also emerged that Somalia's forces had quietly compensated a family in Mandera, whose member was shot by a stray bullet following an earlier clash.

In November 2020, Mogadishu accused Nairobi of hosting, training and arming a militia group with the aim of disrupting business back home.

Nairobi chose not to respond to the allegations as Mogadishu sent more military forces and set up camps along the common border.

KDF role

A security officer in Mandera told the Nation that by 5am, the Jubbaland forces had managed to push the FGS forces out of Bula Hawa.

"The fight is in Somalia ... we have nothing to do with it. The Jubbaland forces are recapturing Bula Hawa town and it looks like they have covered some ground," the source said.

Soldiers of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) were seen strategically positioned in Mandera town, ready to respond to any spillover of the fighting into Kenya.

It remained unclear whether they participated in the fighting at Bula Hawa but they were seen patrolling the border.

It was also the KDF that took injured Jubbaland officers to Mandera County Referral Hospital.

By 11am Monday, the facility had received at least five injured persons, including three Jubbaland military officers.

The KDF officers also guarded government offices and residences of senior civil servants.

Communication networks in Mandera were cut off at about 1pm Sunday.

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