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(Updates with analyst comment starting in fifth paragraph.)
Oct. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Kenya’s government said it has taken “robust measures” to protect the country against al-Shabaab, the rebel group in neighboring Somalia, after foreign tourists and aid workers were abducted.
The action was in self-defense as defined by the United Nations, the government said in an e-mailed statement today without giving details of the operation. Kenyan soldiers entered Somalia yesterday to combat al-Shabaab and create a buffer zone of 100 kilometers (62 miles) on Somali territory, the Daily Nation reported, citing unidentified security officials.
Somalia, on Kenya’s northern border, hasn’t had a functioning government, police force or court system since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. Al-Shabaab has waged a four-year campaign to remove President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s Western-backed administration and controls most of southern and central Somalia.
Somalia’s government has military alliances in the region. About 9,000 Ugandan and Burundian soldiers form the African Union-led peacekeeping force in Somalia. U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces invaded the country in December 2006 to oust the Islamist government that had captured southern Somalia.
Kenya has trained Somalia’s military and allied fighters, Rashid Abdi, a Horn of Africa analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said today by phone from Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.
‘Show of Might’
The recent kidnappings of foreigners from Kenya, which officials blame on al-Shabaab, may have prompted the government to step up its action to show that Kenya has the ability to protect its citizens, investors and tourists, Abdi said.
“This is a show of might rather than a military strategy to free those who have been abducted or to try and hold territory in southern Somalia,” Abdi said. “It’s likely a short excursion to show that Kenya is not impassive and it’s willing to act.”
British tourist David Tebbutt was killed and his wife, Judith, was abducted last month at a resort in Kiwayu, 500 kilometers southeast of Nairobi, and is being held hostage in Somalia. On Oct. 1, Marie Dedieu, a 66-year-old disabled French woman, was kidnapped from a house on nearby Manda Island by gunmen from al-Shabaab.
Two foreign aid workers employed by the medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres were kidnapped near a refugee camp in northeastern Kenya by a group of armed men from Somalia on Oct. 13. Somalis fleeing famine and war have poured across the border this year and Kenya now hosts 590,000 United Nations-registered Somali refugees, three-quarters of whom live in the Dadaab complex, the world’s largest refugee facility.
Forces Move In
Kenyan tanks, jet fighters and helicopters moved into Somalia today, the London-based Telegraph reported, citing residents in the Somali town of Dhobley.
A technical problem or pilot error is suspected of causing the crash yesterday of a military helicopter in which five crew members died at the Kenyan border town of Liboi, Nairobi-based radio station Capital FM reported today on its website, citing Military Operations Information Officer Major Emmanuel Chirchir.
Somalia government spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman said Kenyan troops are massed along the border.
“We have an excellent working relationship with Kenya in terms of security,” he said today by phone from Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. “What we understand is that Kenya is overseeing the border. They are supporting our troops but I can assure you they are not in Somalia.”
Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua didn’t answer five calls to his mobile phone and one to his office today seeking comment.
--Editors: Nasreen Seria, Karl Maier, Heather Langan, Andrew J. Barden
To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Ombok in Nairobi at firstname.lastname@example.org; Sarah McGregor in Nairobi at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at firstname.lastname@example.org.