Thursday, November 24, 2011

African Union Envoy Urges Negotiations With Somalia Resistance

AU envoy urges negotiations with Somalia rebels

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The African Union special envoy for Somalia on Wednesday urged countries waging war on al Shabaab to keep an open door to negotiations with militants who are willing to lay down their weapons.

Neighbouring Kenya sent hundreds of troops into southern Somalia in mid-October to crush the Islamist insurgents it blames for a series of kidnappings on its soil and regular cross-border attacks. Its air force has launched sporadic strikes on what it says are rebel targets.

Ethiopia also sent dozens of military trucks and armoured vehicles into central Somalia over the weekend, witnesses said.

“I’m not saying that Kenya should consider negotiating with al Shabaab. I’m saying that all of us engaged in the effort to bring stability to Somalia should not shut the door to combatant elements who would want to put aside their weapons and talk politics,” said Jerry Rawlings, former president of Ghana and now AU representative for Somalia.

“Even as we are doing combat … let’s also create an opening for them to come on board politically. Let’s not shut all the doors to them,” Rawlings told a news conference in Nairobi.

The AU has backed Kenya’s pursuit of al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab inside Somalia to secure stability in the Horn of Africa country and ensure Kenya’s own security. But Rawlings warned on Wednesday that the conflict would be complex and bloody.

“It is important to maintain the support of the local populace,” he said. “The exercise that your armed forces are going to undertake is a complex one, because a lot of it will involve fighting in urban dwelling areas, and you will have to be prepared for some casualties.”

Somalia’s Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali told Reuters in September that his government was open to talks with al Shabaab’s top commanders and informal talks had been held

Al Shabaab, fighting to impose a harsh interpretation of sharia law on the nation, have vowed to revenge against the region’s biggest economy and bring the “flames of war” to its neighbour.


Kenya’s Defence Minister Yusuf Haji, who attended the news conference, declined to say whether the east African nation would negotiate with any al Shabaab rebels. He reiterated that Kenya had the right to pursue the enemy inside Somali territory.

“What we are trying to do is liberate as many areas of Somalia as possible,” Haji said.

He urged Rawlings to help secure the assistance of the AU peacekeeping force, AMISOM, “to come and take position in the liberated areas whenever it is necessary”.

About 9,000 Ugandan and Burundian soldiers make up AMISOM, which is propping up the shaky Western-backed Somali government and now controls much of the capital Mogadishu after al Shabaab withdrew in August from the coastal city.

The Horn of Africa country has been racked by violence since the overthrow of dictator Siad Barre in 1991 allowed first warlords, then Islamist militants, to step into the political vacuum.

Ethiopia publicly denies its forces are inside Somalia. Addis Ababa has said a decision on whether to join the assault against al Shabaab in some form would be taken on Friday at a meeting of east African heads of state.

Ethiopia entered Somalia in December 2006, with tacit U.S. backing and at the invitation of a Somali government, and left under a cloud in 2009 after routing a previous Islamist administration. But Ethiopia’s perceived occupation deeply angered many Somalis, helping to swell the ranks of al Shabaab.

Asked if the Ethiopians’ re-entry into Somalia would be well received, Rawlings said: “Quite frankly I think they have learnt the necessary lessons and the feedback we are getting is that they are coming on board, we are on the same page.”

Kenya wants to galvanise world action on Somalia

Thu Nov 24, 2011 6:07am GMT
By William Maclean, Security Correspondent

LONDON (Reuters) - Kenya's military push should trigger greater international efforts to stabilise Somalia and end "the expansion of terrorism's tentacles", the Kenyan security minister said on Wednesday, without spelling out what this would entail.

George Saitoti, a veteran politician and former vice president, said Kenya wanted the international community to "come in" and take joint steps to help Somalia, which has been without an effective central government for 20 years.

Saitoti, on a visit to Britain, declined to define what success would look like, how much the mission was costing or give an end date for the advance, but said he hoped the operation would be over by the next Kenyan election, which is due at some point between August and December 2012.

"Our cause is right and just," he told Reuters. "The provocation has been very clear. There was no way Kenya was going to tolerate this kind of violation of our own border."

"Kenya is not fighting the Somali people. Kenya is not fighting the religion of Islam. Kenya is fighting terrorism."

Asked whether Kenya wanted to capture the southern Somali port of Kismayo, an al Shabaab tax raising hub, he said: "Let me put it this way: Kenya has no territorial ambitions on Somalia."

"Our position is properly calculated ... in the hope that the international community will come in and form joint efforts to stabilise Somalia, because that is the key thing."

"This is not Kenya's war. This is a big challenge not only for the Horn of Africa region and not only for the African Union but also for the whole international community."

Kenya sent troops into Somalia last month to crush al Shabaab, accusing the militant network of frequent attacks on its security forces and tourists inside Kenya. Some Horn of Africa analysts say Kenya's deployment inside Somalia lacks the muscle to deal a mortal blow to al Shabaab.

Asked if he expected reprisal attacks, Saitoti replied: "We know that is their tactic and we are putting measures in place."


Saitoti suggested Kenya had had no choice but to launch its push because Islamist militancy had continued to grow in the region, costing Kenyan lives. Since an al Qaeda bombing in 2002 that killed 15 people north of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast "the expansion of terrorism's tentacles has gone on", he said.

Saitoti said the militant group was now recruiting unemployed youths in Kenya. These were not just Kenyan ethnic Somalis but also Kenyans from other communities. Security experts say these young men include recent converts to Islam.

"That in fact is one of the reasons why we have decided to move, because al Shabaab had decided to come in to Kenya to recruit the unemployed youth and turn them into terrorists," Saitoti said. "We have seen people other than Somalis who have been recruited into al Shabaab. It is terrorism."

"Al Shabaab has been involved in piracy, kidnapping tourists and in money laundering in Kenya - that demonstrates that not only is it an enemy of our security but also of our economy."

Saitoti dismissed the idea that the military action would damage Kenya's painstakingly built reputation as a peacemaker and anchor of stability in Africa.

"No, look at the other side of the coin," he said. "Would it have served any purpose at all if Kenya, in the face of the provocations where our own people have been killed, had rested on our own laurels and not done anything? As a matter of fact, Kenyans were very, very angry."

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