Somali, Kenyan forces eye rebel bastion, hostage dies
Wed Oct 19, 2011 4:52pm GMT
(Adds French travel advisory, Kenyan official, Al Shabaab, AU statement)
By Sahra Abdi and Ibrahim Mohammed
MOGADISHU Oct 19 (Reuters) - Kenyan and Somali forces were poised to close
in on Islamist rebels in their southern Somali strongholds as Paris
announced that a Frenchwoman, whose kidnapping spurred Kenya's cross-border
incursion, had died.
Kenya's military stormed across the border on Sunday to support Somali
government troops in a risky attempt to secure the frontier and its
hinterland. The operation follows a wave of kidnappings by suspected
militants that have threatened the East African country's multi-million
dollar tourism industry.
A Kenyan military spokesman said Kenyan and Somali government troops had
killed 73 rebels during fighting, but al Shabaab denied it had suffered any
"We killed the 73 rebels during our artillery bombardment operations and so
far the military has secured three towns... no casualties were reported on
the Kenyan side," military spokesman Emmanuel Chirchir told Reuters in
Nairobi, though he admitted heavy rains were hampering troops from
A senior Somali commander said the operation's aim was to rid Kismayu, a
port city that serves as al Shabaab's nerve centre for operations, of the
"We are determined to cleanse al Shabaab from Kismayu and then from all of
Somalia," General Yusuf Hussein Dumaal, head of government troops in
southern Somalia, told Reuters by phone from Taabto village on Wednesday.
"We hope it will not take us a week to capture Lower Juba region
particularly Kismayu," he said.
Kismayu is about 120 km (75 miles) to the southeast of Afmadow, where the
rebels have been fortifying their defences, digging tunnels and pouring in
battle wagons mounted with heavy machineguns to try and stop the advancing
Residents said al Shabaab had detained 22 civilians, including six women,
whom the group accused of collaborating with Kenyan and Somali forces.
"There is so much fear. We are even afraid of calling relatives. Al Shabaab
listens to whatever call you make because they have access to the phone
company operators," local elder Ali Adow told Reuters from Afmadow.
If Somali and Kenyan troops were to seize Kismayu, it would be a major blow
to the al Qaeda-linked rebels for whom the city is an important operations
base, and the port a major source of revenue from illegally trafficked
FRENCH HOSTAGE DIES
Al Shabaab said Kenyan troops were in the towns of Taabto, Qoqani and near
the border town of Elwaq. Residents said they saw Kenyan tanks alongside
Somali troops in the Gedo region, near Busaar, about 40 km (25 miles) deeper
But al Shabaab said there had been no face-to-face combat between the
militants and Kenyan forces.
"We deserted those Somali towns after Kenyan planes bombarded our area, they
killed animals and civilians. We have not killed any Kenyans in the
fighting. They have also not killed or injured a single fighter of ours," al
Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab said.
"We shall retake our towns. We shall launch a fierce attack on them. We
shall destroy their tanks and troops," he told reporters earlier in Lafole
The campaign, dubbed Operation 'Linda Nchi' - Swahili for "Protect the
Nation' is a major escalation by Kenya that risks dragging it deeper into
Somalia's two-decade-old civil war, but a spate of kidnappings of Westerners
by gunmen thought to be linked to al Shabaab left it little choice but to
The Frenchwoman, 66-year-old wheelchair-bound Marie Dedieu was seized from
the island of Manda on Kenya's northern coast on Oct. 1. Gunmen whisked her
on a speedboat to Somalia.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero confirmed Dedieu's death
and demanded her body be handed to authorities.
"France is shocked at the total absence of humanity and the cruelty that the
kidnappers have shown with regard to our compatriot, and we want them to be
identified and face justice," Valero said, adding that Paris could not
confirm the date or cause of death.
Paris updated its travel advisory, warning anyone who goes to the northern
frontier and east of Kenya, Somalia and its periphery or near there "is
risking their life and freedom".
Another British woman and two Spanish female aid workers were kidnapped in
the past few weeks, abductions for which al Shabaab denies responsibility
and which it says Kenya is using as a pretext to launch their attack.
Security sources have said the British and French woman had been held in al
Shabaab-controlled territory, highlighting the cooperation between the
militants and criminal networks such as pirates who hijack vessels for
MORE BOMBS IN MOGADISHU
Al Shabaab has waged an insurgency since 2007 against the Western-backed
government. Facing sustained pressure from government and African
peacekeeping troops in Mogadishu, the rebels pulled out their fighters from
the capital in August.
But they retained control of large swathes of south and central Somalia and
vowed to launch more attacks against government offices.
On Wednesday, a remotely detonated bomb exploded near the seaport in
Mogadishu, wounding six people, a day after a suicide bomber killed six
people in the city.
There have been no claims of responsibility for those relatively small-scale
attacks. Al Shabaab launched its deadliest attack ever in Somalia when a
suicide truck bomb killed more than 70 people earlier this month.
The African Union said it supported Kenya's operation.
Kenyan officials warned the instability in Somalia would reflect badly on
the tourism industry, the third largest source of foreign exchange last
year, earning the country 74 billion shillings ($740 million) last year.
"If we do nothing to attend to the security issue and also sensitise our
main markets about the security situation then tourism is likely to go
down," the finance ministry's Joseph Kinyua told Reuters, adding the
military campaign would not put too much of a burden on Kenya's finances.
Kenya spends less than 1 percent of its gross domestic product on military
spending, which meant only operational and logistical funds were required
for the campaign.
Kenya has long looked nervously at its anarchic neighbour and its troops
have made brief incursions in Somali territory in the past. This week's
incursion on a larger scale could invite major reprisals, which al Shabaab
Planning Minister Wycliffe Oparanya said: "We are not yet safe, they can
retaliate in many ways. But Kenya has decided to deal with the issue for
once." ($1 = 99.900 Kenyan Shillings) (Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh
in Mogadishu, John Irish in Paris, Humphrey Malalo and Beatrice Gachenge and
Duncan Miriri in Nairobi; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Richard Lough,
Myra MacDonald and Roger Atwood)
C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
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Received on Wed Oct 19 2011 - 15:53:46 EDT