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Kenya tightens border with Somalia

 

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) -- Kenya sent extra troops to the Somali frontier, stepped up security checks and said it saw no reason for Somalis to flee, underlining fears about Somali Islamic militants slipping across the border after losing a power struggle.
br> Kenya stopped short of closing the 675-kilometer (400-mile) border Wednesday after troops of Somalia's transitional government and Ethiopian forces routed Islamic militiamen who had controlled most of southern Somalia. Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement that neighboring Kenya had a humanitarian obligation to take in civilians at risk.
br> "Anyone coming to the border has to be screened properly," Kenya's Foreign Affairs Minister Raphael Tuju told journalists in Kenya. "There's no reason at all to allow an influx of people unless there are women and children and it's really, really obvious that they are in danger in their own country. At this particular time, we don't see that danger."
br> Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi has said he believes major fighting was over. But fighting in recent weeks has displaced hundreds, many of whom have headed toward Kenya, and the Islamic movement has declared itself unbowed. In the southern town of Jilib, a lone gunman shouting "God is great" killed three Ethiopians, including a commanding officer, before another Ethiopian soldier killed him, witnesses said Wednesday.
br> Government forces have captured two more southern towns from Islamic militants, and were moving to take a third, Defense Minister Col. Barre "Hirale" Aden Shire said in Kismayo.
br> Three al Qaeda suspects in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa are believed to be leaders of the Somali Islamic movement. Islamic movement leaders deny having any links to al Qaeda.
br> In Washington Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said U.S. Navy vessels were deployed off the Somali coast of Somalia looking for al Qaeda and allied militants trying to escape.
br> In Brussels, the European Union and Norway called on the government and Islamic militants to hold talks to forge a lasting peace plan that could be backed by African-led peacekeepers.
br> Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni planned to fly Thursday to Ethiopia to meet with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi about a peacekeeping mission. Uganda has said it had a 1,000-troop battalion ready to deploy in a few days. Nigeria also has promised troops.
br> Meles has said his forces cannot afford to stay for long.
br> Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki told his Somali counterpart Tuesday that his country had strengthened patrols along the border, a statement from the presidential press service said.
br> A Kenyan police report seen by The Associated Press said that unidentified gunmen fired smalls arms at a Kenyan security helicopter Wednesday from Ras Kamboni, a region at Somalia's southernmost tip where remnants of the Somali Islamic movement were believed holed up. The report did not give further details.
br> Later Wednesday, two patrolling Kenyan Air Force planes came under fire after flying over an unidentified armored vehicle to observe it, another police report said. One plane was hit and the windscreen damaged, the report said, without giving further details.
br> A day earlier, four Ethiopian helicopters apparently mistook a Kenyan border post at Harehare for the Somali town of Dhobley, one of the towns the Somali government reported capturing Wednesday, and fired rockets at several small buildings, a security officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. There were no reports of casualties, the officer said, adding that Kenyan tanks had been sent to the area.
br> About 4,000 Somalis were reportedly in the Dhobley area, unable to cross into Kenya, the U.N.'s humanitarian agency said.
br> UNHCR expressed concern in a statement Wednesday that Kenyan authorities may have forcibly returned Somalis from near Dhobley. UNHCR's Guterres acknowledged that governments had to ensure border security, but said "Kenya also has a humanitarian obligation."
br> "Most of those in Liboi are women and children, and they should not be sent back to a very uncertain situation," he said.
br> Kenyan Foreign Minister Tuju said Kenya would enforce a tight screening process as long as the refugees waiting to cross were not in immediate danger.
br> The Islamic movement had filled a vacuum in a country that has been without effective central government since clan-based warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. The warlords then turned the country into a chaotic patchwork of armed, clan fiefdoms.
br> The transitional government was formed in 2004, after two years of talks in neighboring Kenya. It has international recognition, but little military strength, and was riven by clan politics. Two weeks ago it controlled only one town, central Baidoa, while the Islamic movement held the capital and much of southern Somalia.
br> Ethiopia sent at least 4,000 well-trained troops into Mogadishu on December 24, dramatically changing the government's fortunes.

U.S. aims to stop Islamic extremists fleeing Somalia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. forces are deployed near Somalia to block the escape of members of that country's ousted Islamist government with ties to al Qaeda and other extremists, a State Department spokesman said on Wednesday.
br> "We would be concerned that no leaders who were members of the Islamic Courts which have ties to terrorist organizations including al Qaeda are allowed to flee and leave Somalia," spokesman Sean McCormack said.
br> "We of course have a presence off the coast of Somalia and Horn of Africa to make sure there are no escape routes by sea where these individuals could flee," McCormack said. He declined to provide details about the U.S. forces.
br> The Islamists, who deserted their last stronghold on Monday after two weeks of war against Somali government troops backed by Ethiopia, have pledged to fight on after melting into the hills between the Indian Ocean port of Kismayu and Kenya.
br> McCormack did not name specific extremists, but U.S. officials said before the war the top layer of the Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC) was controlled by a cell of al Qaeda operatives. The head of the council, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, is on U.N. and U.S. extremist lists.
br> During the six-month rule of the Islamists, U.S. officials tried with no success to persuade the SICC to give up three suspects wanted for the 1998 bomb attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania who Washington believed were in Somalia.
br> Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said on Tuesday that pro-Islamic fighters from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Arab countries were taken prisoner during the fighting.
br> The United States set up the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa in 2002 in Djibouti, where a former French Foreign Legion base serves as a major hub for U.S. counter-terrorism training and operations as well as humanitarian efforts.
br> Members of that 1,800-member task force have also trained with troops in Ethiopia, and U.S. ships patrol the nearby Gulf of Aden, according to Pentagon documents.
br> Asked about the widely shared assumption that Ethiopia's two-week campaign to oust Somalia's Islamists enjoyed U.S. blessing, McCormack said Washington had preferred a negotiated settlement.
br> "But it became apparent over time, and certainly very apparent in the recent weeks, that that wasn't going to happen and that the Islamic courts were intent upon trying to seize control over all of Somalia through use of arms," he said.
br> "There were real concerns about the composition of the leadership of those Islamic courts," McCormack added.
br> The State Department would immediately make available food aid for Somalia and join an international donors' conference to assess the country's needs, he said later in a statement.
br> Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, was to co-host a meeting on Friday in Kenya aimed at finding ways to help Mogadishu, including backing an African peacekeeping force for Somalia, the State Department said.
br> Frazer was in the Ethiopian capital for meetings with the leaders of Ethiopia and Uganda. Uganda is the only country so far to offer troops for the peacekeeping force, which was endorsed before the war by the United Nations.


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