Muslim leaders in Kenya are warning the government against allowing foreign militaries to use Kenya as a staging ground for war against Islamists in neighboring Somalia. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
Kenyan Islamic leaders meeting in Nairobi say they believe the country is in danger of being dragged into the brewing conflict in neighboring Somalia and becoming another front in the U.S.-led war on terror.
The secretary general of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, Sheikh Muhammad Dor, tells VOA that Muslim leaders here are particularly concerned over reports they are hearing of tanks cited near the Ethiopian and Somali border, leading to speculation the Kenyan government may have allowed Ethiopia to move some of their heavy armored vehicles to the Somali border through towns in northern Kenya.
"What we are saying is that we have eyewitnesses, who saw military tanks. The tanks were in Mandera, Isiolo, Moyale and Garissa. This is not rumor," he said.
Moyale and Mandera are right on Kenya's border with Ethiopia. Isiola and Garissa are several hundred kilometers south of the Ethiopian border and far from the Somali border.
The sheikh acknowledges he cannot confirm that the tanks seen in northern Kenya belonged to the Ethiopian military, or that they were being deployed to battle Somalia's powerful Islamist forces.
Kenyan government officials vehemently deny that the country is being used for military activity against Somali Islamists, and have cautioned the Muslim leaders here from making statements the government says are "unpatriotic" and "unhelpful" to the situation in Somalia.
Since Islamists seized the Somali capital in June and began consolidating their power throughout southern and central Somalia, Ethiopia has accused leaders of the movement of being extremists with ties to terrorist groups.
Ethiopia admits that it has sent several hundred military advisors to support Somalia's secular, but weak interim government, which has its headquarters in the town of Baidoa. But it has steadfastly denied Islamist and U.N. claims that Addis Ababa has deployed thousands of combat troops in Somalia to protect the government from being toppled.
The Islamists have declared a holy war on Ethiopia, which is more than half Muslim and has a Christian leadership.
The Kenyan Muslim leader says Muslims in Kenya will not allow their country to be used in what he describes as "Christian plans" to attack Somalia to discredit and destroy the growing Islamist movement there.
"We will never support a Christian country, or a Christian army to fight against our Muslim brothers," said Dor. "We will not say how we are going to protect our Muslim brothers in Somalia, if any foreign country passes in Kenya. But we are telling you, we will definitely protect our Muslim brothers. Definitely."
Muslims make up about a quarter of Kenya's predominantly Christian population of nearly 36 million.
Since the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, tensions between Kenyan Muslims and Christians have been rising steadily, amid Muslim complaints of harassment and intimidation in the country's official efforts to combat terrorism.