Kenya warned aircraft against flying over an area of Somalia where arms shipments may have been delivered to al-Shabaab, as it reportedly summoned Eritrea’s ambassador about allegations his country is supplying weapons to the militants.
At least three aircraft have landed in southern Somalia carrying weapons suspected of being for the al-Qaeda-linked militia, which is being targeted by Kenyan military forces that began an incursion into Somalia on Oct. 16. Two of the aircraft landed in Baidoa, 224 kilometers (139 miles) northwest of Mogadishu, army spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir said.
“We know Baidoa is being used to deliver weapons,” Chirchir said today in a telephone interview in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. “Every time we have a delivery, we are going to take that aircraft down.”
Kenya’s government accuses al-Shabaab of murdering a British tourist in Kenya and abducting at least four visitors and aid workers, damaging a tourism industry that is the East African nation’s second-biggest foreign-exchange earner. Al- Shabaab denies the charges.
While heavy rainfall has hampered the advance of Kenya troops, the military is targeting 10 Somali towns, including the port of Kismayo, which is a main supply route for al-Shabaab, and warned residents there to be cautious.
Chirchir said last month Kenyan forces are “willing to celebrate Christmas” in Kismayo if it takes that long to arrive there. The army hasn’t provided any schedule for its planned advance or details on the size of its force.
Al-Shabaab has been fighting Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s United Nations-backed government, which is supported by a 9,500-member African Union force, for four years and controls most of southern and central Somalia.
“All aircraft are hereby warned not to land in Baidoa,” Chirchir said in a statement on his Twitter account yesterday. “Anyone violating this will be doing so at their peril. Further unauthorized flying over the region will be considered a threat.”
Two aircraft that landed at Baidoa may have departed from Eritrea, the Nairobi-based Standard newspaper reported on Nov. 2, citing unidentified websites in Somalia that quoted al- Shabaab. A third aircraft may have also originated in Eritrea, the Daily Nation, based in Nairobi, said yesterday.
Eritrea denied it is supplying arms to al-Shabaab and said there is no evidence it has any military involvement in Somalia, according to a statement e-mailed by the country’s Foreign Ministry on Nov. 2.
“We don’t know what the source of the shipment is,” Chirchir said today.
Eritrean Ambassador Beyene Russom met Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula after the diplomat was summoned to discuss allegations his country was involved in shipping arms to al-Shabaab, the Daily Nation reported today, without citing anyone. Russom wasn’t immediately available for comment on the report, an assistant at his Nairobi-based office who declined to be identified in line with embassy policy, said by phone.
Eritrea may be providing financial and logistical support to armed opposition groups in Somalia and other countries including Uganda, Djibouti and Ethiopia, according to a July report by the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.
Kenya’s navy yesterday intercepted a skiff carrying suspected militants, killing all 18 people on board, Chirchir said. Al-Shabaab has threatened to retaliate against Kenya.
Last month, two bomb blasts in Nairobi killed one person and injured 28 in attacks the government said were inspired by al-Shabaab. A man arrested in connection with the bombings, Elgiva Bwire Oliacha, was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to charges including engaging in organized criminal activity and of being a member of al-Shabaab.
Chirchir also warned Kenyan livestock traders not to sell donkeys to al-Shabaab militants, who are using the animals to carry weapons.
“The locals use donkeys to fetch water for domestic use, however, due to the heavy rains water-fetching is not feasible,” he said. “Any large concentration and movement of loaded donkeys will be considered as al-Shabaab activity.”
By Sarah McGregor and Paul Richardson