Kenyan Security Unit to Guard Vanoil, Afren Assets in North

Kenya has created a security unit to protect oil exploration sites in its strife-prone north where companies including Vanoil Energy Ltd. are searching for petroleum, a senior government official said.

The region, which borders Somalia and Ethiopia, has been hit by frequent grenade and gun attacks since the country sent its army into southern Somalia in Oct. 2011 in pursuit of al-Qaeda-linked rebels trying to impose Islamic law. Kenya has accused al-Shabaab of carrying out attacks on foreigners in its north including the kidnapping of aid workers and tourists.

“The formation of the special security unit is necessitated by many factors such as oil sites which are located in conflict-prone arid areas of northeast Kenya,” Garissa County Commissioner Rashid Khator said in an interview yesterday.

“It’s a strategic investment which must be accorded special protection and round the clock security.”

Kenya, which imports all of its oil needs, found its first crude deposit last year in the country’s northwest. The discovery has spurred investment in the industry even as Tullow Oil Plc, along with partners Africa Oil Corp. and Cnooc Ltd., are assessing the commercial viability of their finds.

The security unit will guard “strategic facilities” such as oil exploration installations, and protect workers in the industry and their transportation networks, Khator said. The government is also working to settle any disputes between communities over division of possible oil reserves, which threatens to exacerbate decades-old ethnic tensions over other resources including land for cattle-grazing and water, he said.

Borana, Somali

The Borana, a pastoralist group in Isiolo County, and ethnic Somalis in Garissa County disagree over the boundaries within 3A and 3B blocks operated by Vanoil Energy, Khator said.

“The government is addressing claims between Borana and Somali communities over location of the two oil exploration sites and we will rely on colonial maps and elders with knowledge of the area,” he said. “We will not allow the matter to reignite old rivalry between the two communities and cause armed conflict.”

The spread of weapons from Somalia has fuelled inter-communal violence in Kenya, according to a government investigation into clan fighting in the eastern Tana River Delta which left at least 164 people dead since last year and displaced 40,000 more. Somalia is trying to rebuild a functioning central government and re-establish security after being mired in civil war and lawlessness since the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Simba Energy Inc. and Afren Plc are among other companies operating in Kenya’s north, according to their websites. No one answered a call to the Vancouver, British Columbia-based office of Vanoil Energy outside regular office hours yesterday.