Kenya revealed on Friday that it had deported an Eritrean diplomat “for security reasons” hours before the country’s Foreign Minister made an abrupt visit to Nairobi seeking audience with President Kibaki.
The diplomat is the second Eritrean to be expelled from Kenya in as many months on grounds of “security” — which is diplomatic speak for involvement in activities that undermine the host country. He was described as a businessman.
The Foreign Affairs adviser of public affairs, Prof Egara Kabaji, said the head of Horn of Africa division who could give more information, was out of office on transfer to Uganda. He, however, referred further queries to Immigration department or the government spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua.
The Immigration public communications officer, Mr E Njeru, said “there are two cases involving Eritreans who were deported on security related grounds. The diplomat’s case happened earlier.”
He identified one of the deportees as Mr Hannibal Menghstie but we could not verify immediately whether he was the diplomat.
Contacted by the Saturday Nation, the Eritrean Ambassador, a Mr Sareh, said: “We have seen Mr Wetang’ula and all questions should be answered from the Kenyan Foreign Affairs office.”
The expulsions and Thursday’s blistering attack by United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the Horn of Africa nation for its involvement in the Somalia crisis is building up into the new front in the regional fight against terrorism.
Eritrea is allegedly bolstering insurgents al-Shabaab’s firepower and inflicting a heavy price on the AU forces.
On July 11, the Ugandan contingent in Mogadishu lost three soldiers during intensive fighting, when the insurgents shelled the presidential palace with mortars.
Sources in Mogadishu also said 15 Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) troops had been critically wounded in the fighting although the Ugandan army spokesman, Maj Felix Kulayigye, last week acknowledged only one was wounded.
A day after Mrs Clinton warned of unspecified action against the country, Eritrea dispatched Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed to Nairobi who immediately went into a meeting with Kenyan counterpart, Mr Moses Wetang’ula.
Mr Mohammed’s visit came only a day after Mrs Clinton had criticised Eritrea’s perceived support of the al-Shabaab movement, which is trying to topple Somalia’s fragile transitional government.
A Foreign Affairs official speaking in confidence said the minister sought to get an appointment with the Head of State through Mr Wetang’ula.
Mr Mohammed discussed the special message he had from his President Isaias Afeworki with Mr Wetang’ula and arrangements to let him meet President Kibaki started.
However, he was unable to meet the Head of State due to a day-long Cabinet meeting.
Sources told the Saturday Nation that he could remain in Nairobi until Monday as formal meetings are scheduled for next week.
The abrupt visit is widely linked to both the expulsions and Mrs Clinton’s attack after a meeting in Nairobi with the Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
Meddling in Somalia
Mrs Clinton said the United States would “take action” against Eritrea if it did not stop meddling in neighbouring Somalia.
“With respect to Eritrea, we are making it very clear that their actions are unacceptable, their interference with the rights of the Somali people are at the height of misplaced efforts and funding and we intend to take action if they do not cease,” Clinton said at a joint news conference with Somalia’s new president, whose government is waging a bloody battle against an Islamic insurgency — with some help from the United States.
Mrs Clinton did not specify what kind of action Washington might take. But the UN Security Council is reportedly considering sanctions against Eritrea, which it says may be arming Islamic militants now battling Somalia’s transitional government.
Mrs Clinton vowed to continue US support for the government of Somalia’s transitional president Sheikh Ahmed, against the insurgents, some of whom Washington says have ties to the al Qaeda terrorist network.
“The United States and the international community must serve as an active partner in helping the TFG (Transitional Federal Government) and the people of Somalia confront and ultimately move beyond the conflict and poverty that have gripped their country,” Clinton told reporters at the US Embassy.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood would not elaborate on Clinton’s warning, but said the Obama administration believes Eritrea is supplying arms to militant groups.
The Somalia fighting has killed 250 civilians and forced more than 160,000 people to flee their homes in June alone.
Internally displaced persons in Somalia are estimated at over one million in a country of eight million. They lack food, emergency relief supplies, and essential health, shelter, and water, sanitation and hygiene services.
Kenya, which has experienced two terrorist attacks in the last decade, has been concerned about security on the border with Somalia since al-Shabaab started making gains against the government of President Sheikh Ahmed.
Eritrea has consistently denied supporting any factions in Somalia which is torn by civil wars.