US ‘opposed Kenya on Somalia buffer zone’

Posted on 07/09/2011

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The United States strongly opposes Kenya’s effort to establish a buffer zone in southern Somalia, a leaked diplomatic cable shows.

In the December 2009 message recently posted by WikiLeaks, a US State Department official is said to have “forcibly underscored” Washington’s concerns over reports that Kenya was “recruiting and training an ethnic Somali force as part of a ‘Jubaland’ initiative”.

US deputy Assistant Secretary of State Karl Wycoff expressed America’s position to Foreign minister Moses Wetang’ula at a meeting in Djibouti, the cable indicates.

Mr Wycoff emphasised to Mr Wetang’ula that the Jubaland move “is a bad idea that would more likely add to Somalia’s instability than to help stabilise the country”.

“Wetang’ula defended the initiative by noting that it was an evolving concept and that Kenya had carefully coordinated every aspect of it with the TFG (Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government)”, the cable says.

The minister is said to have insisted nearly two years ago that the al Shabaab insurgency was “weak”.

He recalled during the Djibuouti talks that Ethiopian troops had marched into Mogadishu in 2006 “like a hot knife through butter”.

According to the cable, Mr Wetang’ula further said that the Kibaki administration hoped that the Kenyan-backed effort to defeat al Shabaab militants in southern Somalia would “cage in the Hawiye”, Somalia’s largest clan.

The US should not only criticise Kenya’s plan but should also present its own proposals, the Foreign minister is said to have suggested. “I sincerely believe that good ideas should give way to better ideas,” he said.

Kenya could in any event no longer afford to sit on the sidelines, Mr Wetang’ula stressed. The threat of a major terrorist attack in Nairobi was increasing every day, he warned.

Difficult to implement

The cable also reports on Mr Wetang’ula’s acknowledgment that “some excited Kenyan military officers” had “bungled the earlier phases” of the Jubaland initiative.

The Jubaland plan had also been difficult to implement, Mr Wetang’ula added, because some Kenyan politicians of Somali ethnicity “saw any effort to weaken al Shabaad as an ‘Ethiopian plot’”.

The Foreign minister voiced confidence, however, that the plan would succeed, the cable reports.

A Human Rights Watch report last month noted that Kenya’s move to establish an 80-kilometre-wide buffer zone on the Somali side of the border would also allow Kenyan officials “to make the argument that Somali refugees could stay there instead of coming into Kenya”.

By KEVIN J. KELLY NATION Correspondent New York
Wednesday, September 07, 2011

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Posted in: African papers