/ 6 August 2009

Clinton recalls US embassy attacks in Africa

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday honoured the victims of the deadly 1998 al-Qaeda-linked attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

A day before the 11th anniversary of the August 7 bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam that killed more than 200 people, Clinton paid a sombre visit to a memorial at the site of the former embassy in the Kenyan capital.

The site, she said, is a reminder of ”the continuing threat of terrorism, which respects no boundaries, no race, ethnicity or religion, but is aimed at disrupting and denying the opportunity of people to make their own decisions and to lead their own lives”.

Clinton placed a wreath at the site, signed a guestbook and met with survivors of the Nairobi bombing. She said it was a day ”to renew our resolve to do all that we can to ensure that these attacks don’t take more innocent lives in the future.”

The US says some of those behind the attacks are sheltering in neighbouring Somalia with an extremist Islamist militia known as al-Shabaab that is battling the lawless country’s weak interim government.

Clinton is to meet embattled Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed at the new US Embassy in Nairobi to pledge continuing American backing for his government and the undermanned and underfunded African peacekeeping force supporting it.

”The United States is supporting the Transitional Federal Government,” she said after meeting Kenyan officials on Wednesday.

”We know we’re facing a very difficult conflict, and we also know that the presence of al-Shabaab and terrorist elements within Somalia poses a threat.

”It poses a threat to Kenya, poses a threat to the stability of Africa and beyond. So this is an area where we’re going to work even more closely together,” Clinton said.

Ahmed said this week that his meeting with Clinton presents a ”golden chance” for his war-torn country.

US officials said Clinton is not expected to announce specifics of new assistance to the government. But they say the Obama administration plans to go ahead with additional weapons supplies through African nations to double an initial provision of 40 tonnes of arms.

The US also has begun a low-profile mission to help train Somali security forces in nearby Djibouti, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivities surrounding US involvement in the programme.

US commanders still have sour memories of the 1992 to 1994 American military intervention that began as a humanitarian mission to deliver aid supplies to Somalia.

It ended in a humiliating withdrawal months after the 1993 ”Black Hawk Down” incident in which Somali militiamen shot down a US helicopter and 18 servicemen were killed in the crash and subsequent rescue attempt in the streets of Mogadishu.

Clinton, who was first lady at the time, said she wanted to hear from Ahmed ”what else the international community can do to try to support his efforts to stabilise Somalia, to create a functioning government”.

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991 and Ahmed’s administration holds only a few blocks in Mogadishu, with support from the peacekeepers.

The top UN envoy for Somalia said last month that the country is at a ”turning point” and in desperate need of international support, especially military equipment, training and money. — Sapa-AP