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Fighting breaks out on border as Kenya protests to Mogadishu

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THE STAR 03 MAR 2020

Kenyan forces at the Mandera border remained on high alert on Monday as the Somali National Army launched a heavy attack on the Jubaland regional government which Kenya helped set up.

Kenya sent a diplomatic protest note to Mogadishu following a secret meeting between Somali President Mohamed Farmajo and 11 Kenyan MPs in the Somali capital.

It is not clear what Mogadishu is upto but Nairobi feels like Somalia is behaving like an ungrateful neighbour.

“Kenya has supported Somalia and offered refugees from that country shelter for more than 20 years. To invite and meet Kenyan MPs without proper clearance and to attack a region that has helped provide a buffer zone between Kenya and al Shaabab, raises many questions,” said a western diplomat based in Nairobi.

The tussle between the Kenyan backed Sheik Ahman Madobe and President Farmajo is playing out in Gedo area near Mandera where the former enjoys support.

Kenya shares a 682km border with Somalia and the two countries have been feuding over a triangular piece of the Indian Ocean covering 100,000 square kilometres.

Last month, the Somali National Army deployed heavily along the Kenyan border and took over Jubaland towns of Beled-Hao and Doloow as it began its assault on Madobe.

It is understood that apart from Kenya’s support for Madobe, Mogadishu is also unhappy that Nairobi is yet to hand over an ex-Jubaland minister who escaped from detention in Mogadishu.

On February 2, Amnesty International asked Kenya to arrest and return to Somalia ex-Jubaland minister for security Abdirashid Janan Abdinur who escaped from police to face trial for human rights violations.

The escalation of tensions between Farmajo and Madobe could, in the long run, draw in Kenya which backs the Kismayu based regional government and Ethiopia which is said to back Farmajo.

KDF troops and Ethiopian soldiers guard parts of Jubaland and the KDF quarters were yesterday monitoring events while ensuring the safety of the Kenyan soldiers serving in Amisom.

When contacted, Ministry of Defence’s deputy director of public communications Bogita Ongeri said the matter was operational and referred the Star to Kenya Defence Forces spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Paul Njuguna who wasn’t available for a comment.

A source told us that there have been increased activities around Gedo area on Somalia’s side of the border where troops have been deployed.

“Gedo has been getting more and more troops over the last two weeks,” said a resident of Mandera. The soldiers being deployed by the Somali army were trained in Turkey and have some of the latest equipment including armed personnel carriers.

KDF troops man sections of Jubaland together with Ethiopian Amisom forces. Kenya has openly supported Jubaland administration and the deployment of troops has escalated tensions.

Hundreds of residents have since fled their homes over rising tensions between SNA troops and Jubaland forces.

The United States said Somali Federal Government’s recent move to deploy hundreds of soldiers in Gedo region was unacceptable.

Addressing the UN Security Council, the political coordinator of the US mission to the UN, Rodney Hunter, said the move diverts vital resources from the fight against al Shabab.

He added that the move is a politically motivated offensive in the Gedo region of Jubaland and is unacceptable as it disrupts the agreed roadmap for security operations.

Jubaland has condemned the move as an invasion, but the federal government says the soldiers were sent there to protect Somali borders.

Diplomatic relations between Kenya and Somalia have been on a steep decline since early last year when Kenya accused Somalia of putting Kenya’s blocks up for auction during the February Somalia oil and gas conference in London.

This comes in the wake of a trip by 11 MPs who flew to Mogadishu for meetings with Somalia’s president and intelligence chiefs.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was not aware of the trip by the lawmakers from Wajir and Mandera counties. They were grilled by detectives on arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, but authorities said they were not under arrest.

The MPs are Ahmed Kolosh (Wajir West), Ibrahim Abdi (Lafey), Rashid Kassim (Wajir East), Mohamed Hire (Lagdera), Omar Maalim (Mandera East), Bashir Abdullahi (Mandera North), Adan Haji (Mandera West), Kullow Maalim (Banisa), Adan Ali Sheikh (Mandera South), Dahir Mohamed (Dadaab) and Ahmed Bashane (Tarbaj).

There were claims that Somalia’s leadership lobbied the MPs to push Kenya to stop supporting President Ahmed Mohamed Islam, better known as Madobe, in Jubaland.

MPs defended their trip, saying it was in the interest of regional peace and stability. They claimed that they did not require authorisation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as they had been cleared to travel by Parliament.

Yesterday a section of Mandera MPs put the government on the spot accusing it of accommodating fugitives thereby endangering the lives of the citizens.

The lawmakers – eight in number – demanded that the government hand over the former Jubaland security minister who they claimed has been in hiding in the country.

Mandera senator Mahamud Maalim, Hassan Omar (Mandera East), Adan Haji (Mandera West), Hassan Kulow (Banisa), Adan Haji(Mandera South) , Maj. Rtd Bashir Abdullahi(Mandera North) told President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene adding that the continued presence of the fugitive exposes the region to attacks from both Somali and Jubaland forces.

The lawmakers also accused the government of unnecessarily meddling in Somali affairs at the expense of safety and security of citizens.

They claimed the government through the KDF was accommodating and protecting fugitives as well as the security minister despite their warning one month ago.

“It is very sad that in 21st century, Kenya can still allow foreign forces to fight on their land. We want government to take responsibility because we said this one month ago. Kenya government through KDF is supporting fugitives,” Omar said.

“He (the fugitive) has been operating here and leading his forces from Mandera and that is why this morning a fight broke out,” added Omar.

Omar whose Mandera East Constituency was more affected, said houses had been destroyed and schools closed as residents fled the area which experienced heavy gunfire since 11am Monday.

Senator Mahamud said the government should move with speed to restore calm in the area which has been deserted due to the ongoing war.

“We do not know the number of casualties because there is heavy smoke almost everywhere. We are facing imminent danger,” the senator said.

The senator also defended the trip to Somalia over the weekend saying they have no business getting clearance from the foreign ministry for a private visit.

“We don’t need to get permission from the Ministry of Foreign affairs,” he said.

The leaders spoke yesterday at Parliament Buildings.

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