Leaders allay fears of al Shabaab attacks

Sunday May 31 2009

Members of local militia arrive for the peace meeting at Kolbio in Southern Somalia.

Members of local militia arrive for the peace meeting at Kolbio in Southern Somalia.  

By MUCHEMI WACHIRA and ISSA HUSSEIN

As Kenya beefs up security on its border with Somali, peace committees from both countries have defused fears of an attack by al Shabaab militia group.

Al Shabaab, which is allied to al Qaeda has threatened to attacks Kenya for backing Somali’s transitional government.

Local leaders from both sides of the border have been holding a series of meetings to craft a strategy to stop al Shabaab from crossing into Kenya.

And this has eased tension along the border where security forces have been on high alert since March this year.

“We have agreed in our meetings that we shall not allow al Shabaab forces to get into Kenya. If they make good their threats, we shall first crush them in our own territory,” Kolbio peace committee chairman Mr Ali Dere told the Nation in an interview on Saturday.

Kolbio is one of the divisions in Southern Somali. It neighbours Hulugho division of Ijara district in Northern Eastern province, which al Shabaab forces are said to be trying to use as an entry point to invade Kenya and take over the entire North Eastern province to make it part of a greater Somali.

Mr Dere and his team had travelled to Sinai area at the border to join his Kenyan counterparts for a press conference.

The Kenyan team was led by Mr Mudhow Hajji, chairman of the Hulugho Peace Committee.

A local militia accompanied the peace committee officials but they were not armed. They came in a Toyota Land Cruiser from Dobley town in Badada province in southern Somalia.

The whole group seemed suspicious when they found journalists waiting for them at Sinai Primary School. The Nation team had tried to cross into Somalia but was warned that the militia would open fire at the sight of cameras.

Therefore, when the group saw the cameras and our vehicle we could see the apprehension in their faces.

Peaceful existence

However, the Somali delegation was reassured by Mr Mudhow, local chief Adbulrahman Shafe and a local elder who had organised the press conference and invited their colleagues from across the border. The committee said they wanted to explain their commitment to ensuring peaceful existence in the face of al Shabaab threats.

And, the Somali group said it wanted to clarify that it was not involved in a recent military helicopter accident. The chopper had crash-landed 18 kilometres away from the border.

Mr Dere said his group had no links with Hassan al Turki, the leader of Ras-Kamboni militias, a nest of groups allied to al Qaeda.

Mr Turki is on the US list of most wanted terrorists. His militias control Ras-Kamboni, Kuda Burgabo and Badada in Southern Somalia.

“We have decided to work for peace as we need each other. Our people go to Kenya for medical services because we have no hospitals.

Our children also attend schools in Kenya. So we rely on Kenya for most of our essential services since the government in Mogadishu collapsed 20 years ago” Mr Dere said.

His counterpart, Mr Mudhow, said they too relied on their Somali neighbours in many ways.

He said they buy goods mostly electronics, and sugar from the Port of Kismayu. Kismayu is a free port and handles imports from the Middle East and Asia.

Some of these goods are smuggled into Kenya and sold in Nairobi’s Eastleigh area, where Somali traders control most of the businesses.

“We can’t do without our brothers and sisters across the border,” Mr Mudhow said.

Al Shabaab has been fighting the transitional government in Somalia and wants to replace it with a Taliban-type regime.

With support of several militant groups, al Shabaab has besieged the government of President Ahmed Shariff.

Some 50 people have been killed in the fighting in Mogadishu, amid fears that the insurgents may destabilise the entire East African region.

Last week Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula said Kenya will give Mogadishu the necessary assistance to destroy the al Qaeda connected group.

And, although the border is closed, refugees have continued to sneak into Kenya. The 1,200 kilometre-border is porous and since people from each side of the border are related, refugees are said to be using their relatives to escape the insurgency in their country.

But, Ijara area police boss Rems Warui said they have not witnessed a huge influx.

“We only arrested three refugees yesterday. And they had used panya routes to cross over,” Mr Warui said.

In Garissa town, which is the provincial headquarters for North Eastern Province, the Nation was told that refugees are transported at night in small vehicles using back routes to avoid police road blocks.

The refugee problem is worst in Fafi district where the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and its agencies want a refugee camp set up.

They made the appeal to the government during a meeting held last Tuesday to discuss the issues of the rising number of refugees in North Eastern Province.