NAIROBI: At least 20 people have been killed in Kenya in ethnic clashes in the restive northeast, the latest in a series of revenge attacks between rival Somali clans.
Fighting broke out on Sunday between clans in the Tarbaj district of Wajir along the border with war-torn Somalia, government officials said on Monday. Tarbaj deputy county commissioner David Rotich said 20 gunmen from both the Degodia and Garre clans died in the clashes.
The remote, rural region is one of Kenya’s most volatile areas, awash with guns and armed bandits. Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab have also launched attacks in the area, although the clashes on Sunday were over land and grazing for livestock belonging to the pastoralist people there. The latest fighting takes the number killed in the troubled district since May to at least 80 people, according to the United Nations.
Over 75,000 people have fled their homes in Wajir and neighbouring Mandera during weeks of revenge attacks, while some 60,000 more have been affected by the violence, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warns. Dozens of houses have been torched and others looted. The area was one of the hardest hit during extreme drought in 2011, and poor rains have risen hunger levels again. “Pre-existing food insecurity is high in the affected areas...the conflict has further exacerbated food insecurity for the affected families,” OCHA said.
Meanwhile, Kenyan fighter jets have bombed bases of Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab with scores of fighters killed, the African Union said Monday, claims the extremists dismissed as lies.
The air strikes on the impoverished villages of Anole and Kuday in the southern Lower Juba region are part of the offensive by the 22,000-strong UN-backed AU mission in Somalia (AMISOM), who launched in March a fresh bid to wrest remaining towns from the Islamists. “AMISOM forces have conducted airstrikes... as part of a sustained effort to destroy Al-Shebab’s military capabilities,” the force said in a statement, adding it was Kenyan air planes that carried out the bombing.
Kenya army spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir, who boasted the strikes had “left more than 80 Al-Shebab terrorists killed”, said the military offensive would continue “liberating more areas.” Shebab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab said Kenyan troops with the AU were also fighting the Islamists on the ground Monday, with jets and attack helicopters firing in support. But he dismissed claims over 80 of his fighters had been killed as propaganda, and said bombardments on Sunday had struck empty forested areas.
“Not a single Shebab fighter was killed or wounded, and the Kenyan statement is to confuse the Kenyan people who are wanting their government to withdraw their troops that are in Somalia,” he said. The air strikes come one week after the Shebab claimed responsiblity for twin massacres on Kenya’s coast in which at least 60 people were killed, although Nairobi blamed those attacks on local political networks. The Shebab said it carried out the attacks in revenge for Kenya’s military role in southern Somalia, as part of the AMISOM force.
At Anole, the AU said airstrikes “left more than 30 Al-Shebab fighters dead”, while in Kuday, the strikes “killed more than 50 insurgents.” It was not possible to independently verify the numbers reported killed. But the Shebab boasted of having ambushed a Kenyan army convoy inside Somalia. “Several Kenyan soldiers were killed and their bodies are lying in the battle zone,” Musab told AFP, claiming at least 13 had been killed, reports again impossible to verify. “Kenya’s army is using helicopters and fighters jets to rescue their surrounded troops.”
After withdrawing from fixed positions in the capital Mogadishu nearly three years ago, the Shebab have lost most large towns to the AU and government soldiers. However, they still regularly launch guerrilla raids. AU envoy Mahamat Saleh Annadif praised the latest push against the Islamist fighters. “We will employ all the means at our disposal to end their reign of terror,” Annadif said.
Recent Shebab attacks in Somalia have targeted key areas of government, or the security forces, in an apparent bid to discredit claims by the authorities and AU troops that they are winning the war. “Our demands are simple for the Kenyan government, withdraw your troops and stop mistreating Muslims in Kenya,” Musab said. Foreign diplomats say the Shebab threaten several nations in East Africa, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, who all have troops in Somalia.
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