News / Africa

    UN Presses Kenya on Kismayo Civilian Protection

    East African civilians depart in a truck, right, as AMISOM forces advance on al-Shabab-controlled region, Somalia, Sept. 4, 2012.
    East African civilians depart in a truck, right, as AMISOM forces advance on al-Shabab-controlled region, Somalia, Sept. 4, 2012.
    Gabe Joselow
    As Kenyan troops close in on the al-Shabab militant stronghold of Kismayo, Somalia, United Nations officials are urging armed forces to try to minimize civilian casualties.
     
    U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia Mark Bowden met with the Kenyan defense minister and military officials in Nairobi Wednesday to discuss ways to protect civilian lives as the military operation heats up around the port city.
     
    Port Kismayo, SomaliaPort Kismayo, Somalia
    x
    Port Kismayo, Somalia
    Port Kismayo, Somalia
    Bowden said there has been a spike in the number of civilians fleeing the coastal city, one of the Somali militant group's last remaining bastions.

    “At the moment there appears to be a level of panic or concern about military operations, and yesterday we recorded over a thousand people leaving Kismayo," said Bowden, explaining that plans for providing humanitarian access to those in need must be made as soon as possible.
     
    Al-Shabab Timeline
     
    2006: Launches insurgency to topple Somali government, impose Islamic law
     
    2008: U.S. declares al-Shabab a foreign terrorist organization
     
    2009: Seizes control of parts of Mogadishu, Kismayo
     
    2010: Expands control across central and southern Somalia; carries out deadly bombings in Kampala, Uganda in first attack outside Somali
     
    2011: Blocks drought/famine aid from areas under its control
     
    2011: East African leaders declare al-Shabab a regional threat, Ethiopian, Kenyan troops enter Somalia to pursue the group, which is driven out of Mogadishu
     
    2012: Declares itself an al-Qaida ally, loses ground in Somalia, troops advance on the group's stronghold Kismayo
    “The concern is that their interests are safeguarded and hopefully we can then make sure these people don't become long-termed displaced populations, and are able to return to safety as soon as possible," he said.

    Accounts of civilian casualties
     
    According to Kenyan military officials, ships have been shelling al-Shabab targets in Kismayo, and receiving return fire from militants, in the past few months. U.S.-based Human Rights Watch urged Kenya to investigate an August shelling incident in which two children and a pregnant woman were killed. 
     
    Although Kenya's military was integrated with African Union forces (AMISOM) in June, its naval ships continue to operate independent of the AMISOM mission.
     
    Kenyan military spokesman Colonel Cyrus Oguna said that, in operating independently, Kenyan forces are doing nothing illegal.

    “We're not entirely banned from using maritime forces as long as it's in line with our national interests," he said. "So yes, that's why we're using maritime forces [to shell Kismayo], including air forces. As long as we're using it to protect our national interests and we're also taking care of collateral damage, we have not broken any law whatsoever.”
     
    Oguna also said Kenyan and Somali forces captured the town of Jana Cabdalla, which is within 50 kilometers of Kismayo, on Wednesday.
     
    A fight to the death
     
    Military officials and witnesses have said al-Shabab commanders have been fleeing Kismayo this week, but that some fighters may be staying behind to defend the city.
     
    VOA Somali service reports an al-Shabab radio transmitter dismantled earlier this week in Kismayo is again up and running, broadcasting the group's message and urging residents to stay calm, but vowing to fight to the death.

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    Comments
         
    by: Mark Timeline
    September 20, 2012 12:07 AM
    Please keep some focus on Zimbabwe. The UN along with others overlooked what has taken place in Zimbabwe, with diplomatic "speak", implicitly believing the situation would "go away". A Timeline of events there is a telling account of tragedy beyond the imagination.

    by: Tenebrae_retro from: Kilifi
    September 19, 2012 6:15 PM
    I wonder why the UN is not just as diligent about 'civilian safety' in Afghanistan, or before that Iraq. Or why it had nothing to say in the time Somalia was written off by the whole world as a failed state, a hopeless basket case. Now, as a kind of victory starts to offer itself in a piece of light, the mostly idle UN rushes in to declare themselves the rising sun. What a bore. When one will hear them speak firmly and loudly about US and NATO expeditions elsewhere, then perhaps...perhaps then, one shall listen.

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