Somali rebels on Monday vowed to avenge a deadly Kenyan air raid as the two countries’ prime ministers met over the controversial military assault launched by Nairobi two weeks ago.
While both Kenya and the Somali government are battling the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab insurgents, Nairobi’s decision to send troops and warplanes across the border had caused unease in Mogadishu.
A raid on a southern Somali town on Sunday killed at least five civilians, including three children. Kenya insists it hit an al-Shabaab target but witnesses and aid sources said one bomb ploughed into a camp of displaced civilians.
“Kenya has brutally massacred civilians already displaced by hardship … We will ensure that Kenya mourns more than we did,” a regional al-Shabaab official Sheikh Abukar Ali Ada told reporters.
“They cowardly killed around 15 civilians. We will similarly target them and take revenge,” Ada said.
Mdecins Sans Frontires said at least five civilians were killed in the air raid, which struck a camp hosting 9 000 internally-displaced Somalis in Jilib.
“We would like to minimise any collateral damage that happens, but incidents can happen,” said Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, the prime minister of Somalia’s Western-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
“Any loss of life of a Somali is a tragic loss to all of us,” Ali told reporters in Nairobi, after meeting with his Kenyan counterpart Raila Odinga.
A threat to the world
Kenya’s military onslaught followed the abduction of four foreigners in recent weeks, including two Spanish aid workers from the giant Dadaab camp hosting almost half a million refugees, mainly Somalis who have fled conflict and famine.
The two prime ministers said the al-Shabaab “constitutes a threat to both Somalia and Kenya and is therefore a common enemy for the entire region and the world”, according to a joint statement.
“The Somalia government supports the activities of the Kenyan forces, which are being fully coordinated with the TFG of Somalia and being carried out in the spirit of good neighbourliness and African unity.”
“This threat must be fought jointly by the two nations with support from the international community,” it added, calling for international “logistical and financial support” to blockade Kismayo, a strategic rebel-held port.
Last week, Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said he opposed Kenya’s raid, insisting that his government would accept only military training and logistical support.
His government has little control over the vast war-wracked country beyond central Mogadishu.
‘They are our kids’
While Kenya has ruled out negotiation with the al-Shehab, Somali’s prime minister said talks were possible for all groups who laid down their guns.
“We don’t close the door for those who renounce violence,” Ali said. “They are Somalis, they are our kids who have been brainwashed.”
After carefully avoiding being dragged into the Somali chaos, Kenya admitted on October 16 it had sent troops into Somalia, a country whose anarchy has defeated all foreign interventions and peace efforts for two decades.
Kenya’s military chief General Julius Karang told reporters on Saturday that the forces will pull out “when the Kenyan government and the people of this country feel they are safe enough”.
The move was aimed at preventing further attacks on its territory by the al-Shabaab militia, which it blames for a string of kidnappings of foreigners which threaten to cripple Kenya’s crucial tourism industry.
However the air and land operation has heightened the security threat inside Kenya, with the al-Shabaab, who deny any involvement in the kidnappings, vowing to strike in the heart of its dearest interests.
Kenyan security forces say they have stepped up surveillance and last week a 28-year-old Kenyan was jailed for life after confessing to being behind a grenade attack in central Nairobi that killed one and wounded several.
The al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for July 2010 bombings in Kampala which they said were in retaliation for Uganda’s leading role in the African Union military mission that has propped up the weak Somali government since 2007. — AFP