* Rawlings says conflict could be difficult, bloody
* Kenya minister declines to say if govt will talk to militants
* Somalia govt has said ready for talks with rebels
By James Macharia
NAIROBI, Nov 23 (Reuters) - The African Union special envoy for Somalia on
Wednesday urged countries waging war on al Shabaab to keep an open door to
negotiations with militants who are willing to lay down their weapons.
Neighbouring Kenya sent hundreds of troops into southern Somalia in
mid-October to crush the Islamist insurgents it blames for a series of
kidnappings on its soil and regular cross-border attacks. Its air force has
launched sporadic strikes on what it says are rebel targets.
Ethiopia also sent dozens of military trucks and armoured vehicles into
central Somalia over the weekend, witnesses said.
"I'm not saying that Kenya should consider negotiating with al Shabaab. I'm
saying that all of us engaged in the effort to bring stability to Somalia
should not shut the door to combatant elements who would want to put aside
their weapons and talk politics," said Jerry Rawlings, former president of
Ghana and now AU representative for Somalia.
"Even as we are doing combat ... let's also create an opening for them to
come on board politically. Let's not shut all the doors to them," Rawlings
told a news conference in Nairobi.
The AU has backed Kenya's pursuit of al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab inside
Somalia to secure stability in the Horn of Africa country and ensure Kenya's
own security. But Rawlings warned on Wednesday that the conflict would be
complex and bloody.
"It is important to maintain the support of the local populace," he said.
"The exercise that your armed forces are going to undertake is a complex
one, because a lot of it will involve fighting in urban dwelling areas, and
you will have to be prepared for some casualties."
Somalia's Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali told Reuters in September that
his government was open to talks with al Shabaab's top commanders and
informal talks had been held.
Al Shabaab, fighting to impose a harsh interpretation of sharia law on the
nation, have vowed to revenge against the region's biggest economy and bring
the "flames of war" to its neighbour.
Kenya's Defence Minister Yusuf Haji, who attended the news conference,
declined to say whether the east African nation would negotiate with any al
Shabaab rebels. He reiterated that Kenya had the right to pursue the enemy
inside Somali territory.
"What we are trying to do is liberate as many areas of Somalia as possible,"
He urged Rawlings to help secure the assistance of the AU peacekeeping
force, AMISOM, "to come and take position in the liberated areas whenever it
About 9,000 Ugandan and Burundian soldiers make up AMISOM, which is propping
up the shaky Western-backed Somali government and now controls much of the
capital Mogadishu after al Shabaab withdrew in August from the coastal city.
The Horn of Africa country has been racked by violence since the overthrow
of dictator Siad Barre in 1991 allowed first warlords, then Islamist
militants, to step into the political vacuum.
Ethiopia publicly denies its forces are inside Somalia. Addis Ababa has said
a decision on whether to join the assault against al Shabaab in some form
would be taken on Friday at a meeting of east African heads of state.
Ethiopia entered Somalia in December 2006, with tacit U.S. backing and at
the invitation of a Somali government, and left under a cloud in 2009 after
routing a previous Islamist administration. But Ethiopia's perceived
occupation deeply angered many Somalis, helping to swell the ranks of al
Asked if the Ethiopians' re-entry into Somalia would be well received,
Rawlings said: "Quite frankly I think they have learnt the necessary lessons
and the feedback we are getting is that they are coming on board, we are on
the same page." (Editing by George Obulutsa and Alessandra Rizzo)
INTERVIEW-Kenya wants to galvanise world action on Somalia
Wed Nov 23, 2011 8:08pm GMT
* Kenya says it fighting terrorism in Somalia
* Wants international community to help
By William Maclean, Security Correspondent
LONDON, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Kenya's military push should trigger greater
international efforts to stabilise Somalia and end "the expansion of
terrorism's tentacles", the Kenyan security minister said on Wednesday,
without spelling out what this would entail.
George Saitoti, a veteran politician and former vice president, said Kenya
wanted the international community to "come in" and take joint steps to help
Somalia, which has been without an effective central government for 20
Saitoti, on a visit to Britain, declined to define what success would look
like, how much the mission was costing or give an end date for the advance,
but said he hoped the operation would be over by the next Kenyan election,
which is due at some point between August and December 2012.
"Our cause is right and just," he told Reuters. "The provocation has been
very clear. There was no way Kenya was going to tolerate this kind of
violation of our own border."
"Kenya is not fighting the Somali people. Kenya is not fighting the religion
of Islam. Kenya is fighting terrorism."
Asked whether Kenya wanted to capture the southern Somali port of Kismayo,
an al Shabaab tax raising hub, he said: "Let me put it this way: Kenya has
no territorial ambitions on Somalia."
"Our position is properly calculated ... in the hope that the international
community will come in and form joint efforts to stabilise Somalia, because
that is the key thing."
"This is not Kenya's war. This is a big challenge not only for the Horn of
Africa region and not only for the African Union but also for the whole
Kenya sent troops into Somalia last month to crush al Shabaab, accusing the
militant network of frequent attacks on its security forces and tourists
inside Kenya. Some Horn of Africa analysts say Kenya's deployment inside
Somalia lacks the muscle to deal a mortal blow to al Shabaab.
Asked if he expected reprisal attacks, Saitoti replied: "We know that is
their tactic and we are putting measures in place."
"ENEMY OF OUR ECONOMY"
Saitoti suggested Kenya had had no choice but to launch its push because
Islamist militancy had continued to grow in the region, costing Kenyan
lives. Since an al Qaeda bombing in 2002 that killed 15 people north of
Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast "the expansion of terrorism's tentacles
has gone on", he said.
Saitoti said the militant group was now recruiting unemployed youths in
Kenya. These were not just Kenyan ethnic Somalis but also Kenyans from other
communities. Security experts say these young men include recent converts to
"That in fact is one of the reasons why we have decided to move, because al
Shabaab had decided to come in to Kenya to recruit the unemployed youth and
turn them into terrorists," Saitoti said. "We have seen people other than
Somalis who have been recruited into al Shabaab. It is terrorism."
"Al Shabaab has been involved in piracy, kidnapping tourists and in money
laundering in Kenya - that demonstrates that not only is it an enemy of our
security but also of our economy."
Saitoti dismissed the idea that the military action would damage Kenya's
painstakingly built reputation as a peacemaker and anchor of stability in
"No, look at the other side of the coin," he said. "Would it have served any
purpose at all if Kenya, in the face of the provocations where our own
people have been killed, had rested on our own laurels and not done
anything? As a matter of fact, Kenyans were very, very angry." (Reporting by
William Maclean; Editing by Giles Elgood)
C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
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Received on Wed Nov 23 2011 - 18:56:30 EST