Africa

Kenya troops move into Somalia to pursue kidnappers

  • 17 October 2011
  • From the section Africa
Kenyan security forces speak to a local goat herdsman on the border with Somalia on 15 October 2011
Image caption Kenyan troops have been converging on the border with Somalia in recent days

Kenya has sent troops into Somalia in a bid to pursue militants it suspects of carrying out a spate of kidnappings.

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua said troops were pursuing Somali al-Shabab militants across the border.

But a Somali diplomat at the United Nations told the BBC that if the reports were true it would be a violation of Somalia's sovereignty.

Several Westerners have been seized in Kenya by suspected Somali militants and taken into Somalia.

Two Spanish aid workers were abducted from Kenya's sprawling Dadaab refugee camp on Thursday.

A British woman and a French woman have been kidnapped from remote beach resorts over the past month, dealing a major blow to Kenya's tourism industry.

The first secretary of Somalia's mission to the United Nations, Omar Jamal, said the reports of Kenyan soldiers crossing the border had not been officially confirmed but said he was afraid the involvement of Kenyans in Somalia could make the situation worse.

"We understand the Kenyan concerns very well," he said.

"However if any action is to be taken... the Somali government has to be on the same page, the Somali government has to be informed, the Somali government has to know exactly in many details what is going on, otherwise it will be a different story."

Warplanes

An eyewitness told the BBC he had seen about 25 armoured vehicles full of Kenyan soldiers passing through the Somali town of Dhobley. Tanks were also seen.

The BBC's Will Ross, in Nairobi, says there are reports that Kenyan military helicopters have been carrying out raids in Somalia.

Senior Somali military commander Abdi Yusuf told Reuters that warplanes had attacked two al-Shabab bases in southern Somalia but could not confirm if the jets were Kenyan.

"I can't identify the military aircraft, but our neighbour Kenya is fully supporting us militarily and our mission is to drive al-Shabab out of the region," he said.

In response, al-Shabab - the radical Islamist insurgent group in Somalia - tried to raise the alarm in the areas it controls, AP news agency reports.

Residents in the town of Qoqani said militants were going into people's homes and forcibly recruiting new fighters, the report said.

Image caption MSF worker Montserrat Serra was abducted along with her colleague Blanca Thiebaut

Senior al-Shabab figure Sheikh Hassan Turki vowed to repulse the Kenyan forces.

"Kenya violated the territorial rights of Somalia by entering our holy land, but I assure you that they will return disappointed, God willing," he said.

"Mujahideen fighters will force them to test the pain of the bullets."

Abdirahman Omar Osman, spokesman for Somalia's UN-backed government, said Kenya is "providing logistical and moral support" but insisted that Somali forces are the ones "battling the Shabab on the ground".

Kenyan Defence Minister Yusuf Mohammed Haji said: "If you are attacked by an enemy, you are allowed to pursue that enemy until where you get him. We will force them far away from our border."

Our correspondent says some Kenyans fear their country could become a target for more al-Shabab attacks if it becomes more deeply embroiled in Somalia's conflict.

Kenya's Internal Security Minister, George Saitoti, announced on Saturday that forces would be sent to fight al-Qaeda inside Somalia.

The move comes days after the two aid workers with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), named as Blanca Thiebaut and Montserrat Serra, were taken from Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp.

Just 80km (50 miles) from the Somali border, Dadaab currently houses nearly half a million refugees, most of whom are Somalis who have fled conflict and famine.

A Kenyan driver working for the Care charity was abducted from Dadaab on 21 September.

Last month, 56-year-old Briton Judith Tebbutt was kidnapped - and her husband David killed - by gunmen while the couple were on holiday in a remote Kenyan resort at Kiwayu.

On 1 October, a 66-year-old French woman was seized by an armed gang on Kenya's northern resort island of Manda and taken to Somalia.

The UK Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to the Kenyan coast near the Somali border.

More on this story