Withdraw your troops or face more attacks, is the response from Somali’s ragtag militia to the Kenya government, as the standoff between Nairobi and the terror gang took a turn for the worst yesterday.
The Kenyan government sent its troops into Somalia at the weekend in the wake of several raids into its territory by the militia which is linked to the terror group, Al Qaeda.
Al Shabaab has staged several raids into Kenyan territory killing residents of the country’s less developed northern frontier.
But when they started attacking hotels and targeting the lucrative tourism sector, the government decided it had had enough.
Last month, Al Shabaab, in a daring raid kidnapped a 56-year old Briton, Judith Tebbut, in a remote Kenyan resort at Kiwayu on the Indian Ocean coast close to the Kenya-Somalia border.
Her husband, David, was killed during the raid. A team from the Kenyan navy, which was in hot pursuit of the militia, lost two men after a confrontation in the high seas.
A week later on October 1, the militia attacked again; this time targeting the northern resort island of Manda, where it captured a Frenchwoman.
Her Kenyan partner was shot dead in the raid. A week later, the gang was at it again. This time, they staged a raid deeper into the country, when they attacked the Daabab refugee camp and seized two Spanish women working for the international NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres.
The women’s driver, who was injured in the raid, was flown to Nairobi for specialised treatment. The raid has sent panic through the camp, which holds an estimated half a million people fleeing the violence and drought ravaging the stateless Horn of Africa nation.
Most aid organisations have scaled down their operations in the camp following the raid. The spokesman for the UN refugee agency, Emmanuel Nyabera, yesterday said all aid operations, except the supply of water, food and water, had ceased.
A huge air and ground operation launched at the weekend was called off yesterday. The new threat from the militia is not been taken lightly. In July 2010, the gang staged a raid in two restaurants in downtown Kampala in the Ugandan capital during the finals of the World Cup in which more than 70 people were killed and over 100 seriously wounded.
The attack came hot on the heels of a threat from Al Shabaab, which has fought pitched battles with Ugandan and Burundian troops stationed in the Somalia capital Mogadishu under the AU mandate to protect the Federal Transitional Government of Sheikh Shariff Ahmed.
The government, which is backed by the UN and the African Union, has been unable to extend its influence beyond a narrow stretch of the capital. The militia has also issued threats against the Burundi government.
Despite the latest crisis, threatening the East African coast and the Horn region, the United Nations envoy to the Horn of Africa nation says the Somalis now have a rare opportunity to advance peace in their country and establish a fully functioning government,
Augustine Mahiga, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, said the peace process has taken a “great leap forward” with the adoption last month of the roadmap which sets out a series of tasks to be completed ahead of concluding the transition process next August.
“Somalia’s long national struggle is not over, but this is the best chance for peace in years,” Mahiga wrote in his latest letter to the Somali Diaspora.
“We must accept and work for change to which the Somali people need and deserve, the instrument for change which we now have is the roadmap.”
Among the tasks set out in the roadmap are improving security, drafting a constitution, national reconciliation and good governance.
“The roadmap is a milestone in the peace process, but there is still a long road ahead to travel,” said the Special Representative, who is also head of the Nairobi-based UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS).
“We must avoid putting obstacles in our way and expose those who act as spoilers to progress,” he added, noting that the insurgents are still a threat in Somalia and the situation remains “unstable,” as shown by the suicide bombing earlier this month in Mogadishu that killed scores of people.
Mahiga reiterated the UN’s call for all insurgents still fighting to lay down their arms and join the peace process, while pledging that the world body and the entire international community will stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the country.
“Ultimately, it is the Somali people – in the country, in the region and in the Diaspora – who must step up and play their part in bringing about change and lasting peace. The peace process will only work when the Somali people own it and push it forward,” he stated.
Last month, at a mini-summit on Somalia held at UN Headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that the country has made important strides on the political and security fronts and called on Somali leaders and their international partners to take advantage of recent gains to advance the peace process and stabilise the country.
He said that the roadmap, along with the withdrawal of the Islamist armed group Al-Shabaab from the capital in early August, offers the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) an opportunity to expand territory under its control and enhance its legitimacy by delivering basic services.
“It is time now for the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs) and Somalia’s leaders to implement the roadmap to end the transition, keeping in mind that future assistance will be contingent on the timely attainment of the agreed benchmarks,” said Ban.
“It is equally necessary for the international community to remain engaged in the Somali peace process and to provide resources to the Transitional Federal Institutions and other implementing partners to ensure that this political investment bears fruit,” he added.