Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Somali War Update: Border Closed With Kenya While US-backed Leader Meets With Kibaki

Somali leader meets Kibaki over crisis

Publication Date: 1/3/2007

President Kibaki held key talks with Somalia’s President, Mr Abdullahi Yusuf, at State House, Mombasa yesterday — only a day after Kenya announced the capture of 10 Islamist fighters trying to flee the war-torn country.

President kibaki welcomes President Abdullahi Yusuf of Somalia to state House,Mombasa yesterday.

The fighters allied to the Islamic Courts Union, had earlier been driven out of their Somalia strongholds by a tough force of Ethiopian soldiers who had moved in to support the beleaguered transitional government’s troops.

President Yusuf arrived at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi from his Baidoa base just after 1pm and flew on to Mombasa for the meeting with President Kibaki.

Peace-keeping force

Their talks were expected to centre around the possibility of convening an Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) Heads of State and Government summit to discuss a joint peace-keeping force for Somalia.

Uganda has already pledged 1,000 soldiers and other African countries were expected to make similar commitments.

The meeting came on the same day as another by Kenyan ministers in charge in security and the military, police commanders and other members of a Cabinet sub-committee on security. The crisis in Somalia was top on the agenda.

Those who attended the high level strategic meeting included Internal Security minister John Michuki, Njenga Karume (Defence) and Gideon Konchellah (Immigration), Attorney-General Amos Wako and Chief of General Staff Jeremiah Kianga. Mr Michuki yesterday declined to divulge details of the meeting as he headed to State House, Mombasa, to brief the President.

Key leaders were expected to hold another meeting with the Cabinet committee on security in the presence of the President.

The President had hinted during his New Year’s message that he would convene an Igad meeting early January and take a more active role in seeking a solution to the Somalia crisis.

Sources yesterday said the high-level security meeting discussed the implications of the crisis on Kenya, including the influx of refugees, proliferation of arms and the entrance into the country of suspected terrorists.

Sources from Kiunga said an American aircraft carrier was docked off Ishakani on the Kenyan coast and that spy aircraft had been flying in the neighbourhood causing anxiety among area residents.

Somalia has long been suspected to be home to various terrorism cells. One of the most wanted terrorists, Mr Abdulla Fazul, is believed to be still hiding in the country and running some of the cells.

Mr Fazul is claimed to have taken part in both the American embassy bombing in Nairobi in August 1998, and the Kikambala Paradise Resort attack in 2002.

Reports indicate that more than 1,000 refugees from Somalia have crossed over to Kiunga in Lamu District.

Yesterday, Kiunga ward councillor Abdallah Baabad expressed concern that the refugees could spark a disease outbreak and cause food shortage in the district. “For the past three days, we have received women and children suffering from malaria or skin diseases and with no doctors at Kiunga health centre, we fear the worst,” he said in Mombasa yesterday.

Saying that Kiunga lacked adequate food and water, Mr Baabad asked the Government, the Red Cross and UN High Commission for Refugees to supply the commodities to help the increasing refugee population.

“To handle the incoming refugees, the Government should immediately deploy doctors at Kiunga health centre and repair its vaccines freezers,” he said.

Transport supplies

But because of the impassable roads, Mr Baabad said the only way to transport supplies to the area was by boat through Mkokoni Village.

“If the Government had released the Sh140 million to build the Mokowe-Kiunga road, this problem would have been a thing of the past,” he added.

Due to recent rains, the road had become impassable at Mrunguzi, Bauri, Majengo and Sankuri areas.

Most of the culverts had been damaged and required urgent repairs.

The councillor called for the tightening of security at the Somalia border at Kiamboni to stop more refugees from entering Kenya.

“The police and administrators should be given transport to monitor the situation on the ground,” he said adding that it was only through the use of boats that security personnel could reach the Ishakani border post.

Kenya continued to take security forces to Kiunga to assess the situation.

Speaking on the phone, Lamu district officer Dennis Omosa said the team led by the officer commanding the Lamu police division, Mr John Kamau, had gone to Kiunga to monitor activities following the arrival of 105 refugees on Monday.

Security forces sent the refugees back after convincing them that there was no fighting between the Islamists and the government forces. Mr Omosa said they received another 200 refugees who arrived in four small boats. All of them were arrested.

“Our security forces are aboard the boats inspecting the refugees for arms and other weapons that could threaten our internal security,” he said.

He explained that they had also convinced the Somalis to go back to their country after the tides subsided because there was no fighting in Kismayu.

He said Kiunga had no accommodation for the refugees.

Crossed into Kenya

Asked about the 1,000 refugees that had crossed into Kenya in the past three days as reported by Mr Baabad, Mr Omosa said he could not confirm the reports before the security team returned from Kiunga.

“What I know is that there are about 500 Somalis at Ras Kiamboni in Somalia who want to cross into Kenya although everything seems quiet there,” he said.

He said that in Ishakani, which is 16 kilometres from Somalia, “things are under control.”


Dialogue vital in Somalia conflict

Publication Date: 1/3/2007

The ominous threat posed by the chaos rocking Somalia was dramatised early this week when 10 fighters were intercepted at the Liboi border post.

And in a swift reaction, the Government held a security meeting in Mombasa to map out the country’s security strategy on Somalia, which has not had a central government for over 15 years.

The meeting, chaired by the Internal Security minister, was important on two counts: Kenya shares a porous 1,500-kilometre border with Somalia, while President Kibaki is the current chair of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad).

Apart from spearheading the peace initiative that installed the Transitional Federal Government in Baidoa, Kenya has been instrumental in other peace processes in the region.

The recent developments, however, do not offer an inkling of peace, although neither Igad nor the African Union have expressly condemned Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia.

The point is that the situation in Somalia cannot be managed only through force of arms, although that appears the method of choice by Ethiopia and other Somalia allies.

But the danger that lies ahead, and what threatens to overturn the Somali government and its allies from succeeding — in spite of their military victory — is the notion that theirs is a government imposed on the people.

If the public sympathy swayed against TFG, then the marauding militias will simply mutate into new forms of resistance and Somalia would sink into further chaos.

It is not too late to engage the militia in peace negotiations to secure a permanent solution to the conflict in Somalia.

Igad and the African Union must take a fresh look at the Somalia crisis with a view of finding a better way of ending the conflict in a way that will ensure that it does not recur. Use of force may provide temporary relief, but may not be the best option of settling the long-rang conflict.

Net tightens on Somali Islamists

Ethiopian aircraft and artillery are backing Somalia's government

Kenya has beefed up its security and closed its border with Somalia to halt defeated Islamic militias driven from Kismayo in southern Somalia.

The Islamists say their retreat from advancing Ethiopian and Somali forces is tactical and warns of an insurgency.

A BBC reporter says helicopters and hundreds of army and police have deployed in the border town of Luboi.

The BBC's Bashkas Jugsodaay says a lot of Somali refugees are stranded at the border and are in a bad way.

Somalia's interim President Abdullahi Yusuf met Kenyan leader Mwai Kibaki in Mombasa to discuss security.

An official Kenyan statement quoted Mr Kibaki as urging all parties in Somalia to embrace dialogue, but it made no mention of the border closure.

In a separate development, Ethiopian helicopters pursuing Somali Islamists attempting to escape into Kenya bombed a Kenyan border post by mistake.

Our correspondent says the bombs which landed on the Kenyan side of the border, at Har Har, caused no casualties or damage.

The two-week advance of heavily armed Ethiopian forces ended a six-month Islamist occupation which had brought a degree of stability to large areas of formerly lawless Somalia.


Ten fighters arrested trying to get into Kenya at the weekend were foreigners backing the Islamists, according to Somali's interim government.

But UN Humanitarian co-ordinator for Somalia Eric La Roche expressed concern at the border closure saying it would affect women and children.

Medical aid agency Medicines sans Frontiers (MSF) plans to send international staff back into Somalia this week if given adequate guarantees. It pulled its international staff out two weeks ago.

Two top Islamist leaders are reported to have been seen south of Kismayo with dozens of armed pick-up trucks following their retreat from Kismayo. Ethiopian forces are said to be in pursuit.

Ethiopian forces are set to remain in Somalia to ensure stability, but splits have emerged over when they may leave.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told MPs that he hoped his forces could withdraw within two weeks.

But the prime minister of Somalia's fragile interim government, Ali Mohamed Ghedi, says that heavily-armed soldiers from Ethiopia would be needed for months.


Somalia's weak interim government wants Ethiopian forces to remain in the country until peacekeepers deploy, as they have few well-trained troops and are poorly placed to maintain law and order without help.

But the presence of Ethiopian troops on Somali soil could also damage the government's attempts to win widespread support, the BBC's Karen Allen says.

As if to illustrate the divisions, the deputy prime minister in Somalia's transitional government, Husayn Aideed, has been criticised by the prime minister's spokesman after calling for unity with Ethiopia.

"We share a 2,000km long border. We are brothers. There is nothing that divides us. We want one passport. One army. One security. One economy," he told clan leaders in Mogadishu.

But Abdirahman Dinari said this was definitely not government policy.

On Monday, Mr Ghedi set a deadline of Thursday for all Somalis to hand in their weapons, but this has reportedly borne little fruit so far in Mogadishu.

He has also offered an amnesty to fleeing Islamists if they give themselves up.

European members of the Somali Contact group are due to meet in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss how Europe can help peace efforts in Somalia.

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