Today from Hiiraan Online:  _
Somalia’s Capital Rocked by Bomb as Kenyan Says Troops Advance

By Sarah McGregor
Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A bomb exploded in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, after the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab vowed to resist Kenya’s military intervention in the southern part the country.

The explosion outside a complex of ministry buildings killed at least two people, Kamal Ali Abdi, a shopkeeper who witnessed the blast, said by phone. The bombing took place as Kenyan Defense Minister Yusuf Haji and Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula visited the city for talks with President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s goverment on the military operation.

“They attack us by air and on the border; we must unite and fight back until we clear our territory,” a leader of the Islamist movement, Sheikh Hassan Abdulahi Hersi, said in a voice recording on Radio al-Furqaan, a station that supports al- Shabaab. “The Kenyan government will lose many people and assets because of its intervention in our territory.”

Kenyan soldiers entered Somalia on Oct. 16 after the kidnapping of foreign tourists and aid workers in Kenya that officials blame on al-Shabaab, which has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda.

Kenyan troops today advanced deeper inside Somalia and may target the port of Kismayo in their drive to thwart attacks by al-Shabaab, a defense department spokesman said. Kismayo would be a key target because control of the port gives al-Shabaab revenue.

Heavy Rains

The Kenyans and forces loyal to Somalia’s Western-backed transitional government have secured the towns of Tabda and Afmadow, which is about 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of the Kenyan border, the spokesman, Emmanuel Chirchir, said today by phone from the Kenyan town of Garissa. Heavy rains have slowed the troops’ advance, he said.

“The next town is Kismayo,” he said. “The troops are ready for anything. If it takes us to December they are willing to celebrate Christmas there.”

Somalia, on Kenya’s northern border, hasn’t had a functioning government, police force or court system since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. Al-Shabaab has waged a four-year campaign to remove the transitional administration and controls most of southern and central Somalia.

“Kenya’s military is one of the more professional militaries in Africa, with particularly close ties with the British, and the U.S. has helped as well,” Thomas Cargill, assistant head of the Africa Program at the Chatham House research group, said today from London. “They are as well equipped as anyone in Africa, outside of South Africa and Angola.”

African Union

About 9,000 Ugandan and Burundian soldiers form the African Union-led peacekeeping force in Somalia. U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces invaded the country in December 2006 to oust the Islamist government that had captured southern Somalia.

Deteriorating security along the Kenya-Somalia border was highlighted by the Oct. 13 kidnapping of two foreign aid workers from the medical group Medecins Sans Frontieres by armed men from Somalia at a refugee camp in northeastern Kenya. Somalis fleeing famine and war have poured across the border this year and Kenya now hosts 590,000 United Nations-registered Somali refugees, three-quarters of whom live in the Dadaab complex, the world’s largest refugee facility.

Tourist Killed

British tourist David Tebbutt was killed and his wife, Judith, was abducted last month at a resort in Kiwayu, 503 kilometers southeast of Nairobi, and is being held hostage in Somalia. On Oct. 1, Marie Dedieu, a 66-year-old disabled French woman, was kidnapped from a house on nearby Manda Island by gunmen from al-Shabaab, Tourism Minister Najib Balala said in a statement posted on his Twitter account.

“I don’t think Kenya planned this in a week. They must have done a lot of background, and decided that it was necessary for Kenya to send troops into Somalia,” Ndungu Wainaina, executive director of the Nairobi-based International Centre for Policy and Conflict, said by phone today.

The Lamu archipelago, where the incidents took place, is one of Kenya’s main attractions for tourists who generated 73.7 billion shillings ($740 million) for the country last year, the second-largest foreign-exchange earner after tea. The U.K. government changed its travel advice on Oct. 1 to recommend that visitors to Kenya avoid non-essential visits within 150 kilometers of the border with Somalia.

Kenya is counting on a tripling of tourists to 3 million a year by 2015 to help achieve its goal of 10 percent economic growth.

“This intervention came about because of concerns about external perceptions of Kenya; the tourist industry is very worried because of these kidnappings,” Cargill said. “This is a response intended to try and address those.”

--Editors: Karl Maier, Heather Langan

To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah McGregor in Nairobi at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at [email protected]


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