Kenya’s government rejected accusations by Somalia that its forces breached their peacekeeping mandate and said the troops will remain there until the Horn of Africa country stabilizes.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud earlier this month asked a group of Kenyan forces to leave the country’s south, accusing them of violating their mandate by supporting one of two factions seeking control of the Jubaland region. Somalia wants a “neutral force” to replace the Kenyan peacekeepers, Somali Information Minister Abdishakur Ali Mire said on July 1.
Kenyan troops entered Somalia in October 2011 to fight al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group al-Shabaab after a series of kidnappings of foreigners and the murder of a British tourist in Kenya, which the government blamed on the militant group. Tourism is Kenya’s second-biggest foreign-exchange earner.
“Kenya’s security along the border with Somalia is intractably linked to peace and stability in that country,” Zaddock Syong’oh, a policy adviser in Kenya’s Foreign Ministry, said in an interview on July 12 in the capital, Nairobi. “Kenya’s military will not therefore leave Somalia until it is stable and secure.”
Kenya’s focus in Somalia is to secure Jubaland, which is also used as a base to plan attacks on Kenya, he said. “It is a matter of Kenya’s national security,” Syong’oh said.
The semi-autonomous region is the main source of the more than 600,000 Somali refugees currently in Kenya, Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said on July 10. The UNHCR and other aid agencies are unable to deliver assistance in parts of Jubaland and situation there remains “tense,” Guterres said in an e-mailed statement.
Since they began the incursion, Kenyan forces have helped African Union peacekeepers liberate parts of southern and central Somalia previously controlled by al-Shabaab. Operations to free more territory have been suspended while the government resolves its dispute with Kenya, Syong’oh said.
Somalia accused Kenya of violating its mandate after clashes between two factions seeking control of Kismayo, the capital of Jubaland. Regional leaders in May elected Ahmed Mohamed Islam, a warlord also known as Madobe, as the region’s interim president. Barre Adam Shire Hirrale, a former defense minister, has since declared himself head of the region, according to the African Union.
“Kenya is not supporting any one,” Syong’oh said.
An e-mail and calls to Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid’s office seeking comment weren’t answered.
The central administration in Mogadishu is trying to assert control following more than two decades of civil war since the fall of Mohamed Siad Barre’s dictatorship in 1991.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said on April 9 his country has “invested immense diplomatic energy and resources in the quest for a stable Somalia,” and will support the African Union peace process in Somalia because “a stable and prosperous Somalia is in the interest of all nations.”
The UN is creating a tripartite commission with the governments of Kenya and Somalia to prepare for the voluntary return home of Somali refugees. The repatriation should be slow to avoid destabilizing the peace process, Guterres said.