Somali civilians killed in Kenyan air raids

Kenya acknowledges casualties, but says they were not a "direct result" of air strikes - blaming al-Shabab instead.

    An air raid on a camp packed with displaced women and children has killed at least five people and wounded 45 others, including 31 children, according to the aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

    The Kenyan military admitted carrying out Sunday's attack on the town of Jilib, where the camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) is located, but said the raid targeted al-Shabab fighters who are linked to al-Qaeda and blamed for a string of kidnappings of aid workers and tourists on Kenya's coast.

    "I can confirm five dead and 45 wounded," Gautam Chatterjee, head of mission for MSF Holland in Somalia, told the Reuters news agency on Monday.

    Chatterjee later told Al Jazeera that his medical team had "admitted 31 children, nine women and four men for treatment", explaining that most had "shrapnel wounds".

    Kenyan troops entered Somalia two weeks ago to hunt down al-Shabab fighters, who have lately crossed into Kenya and kidnapped people. Al-Shabab is also fighting the Western-backed transitional federal government in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

    Mixed reports

    Abdiwelli Mohammed Ali, the Somali prime minister, said he did not believe the Kenyans were behind the attack.

    "I doubt the Kenyans did this. Even if that's the case, I doubt that they have done this on purpose," he told Al Jazeera in Nairobi.

    "The Kenyans wouldn't target IDPs. But if that happened, then it's an unfortunate incident. But the fight is not towards this IDPs; the fight was towards the al-Shabab who are a common enemy for both of us.

    The attacked camp is based in the city of Jilib

    "They are an enemy for the Somalis and Kenyans. So that's where our focus is and that's where our target is."

    A Kenyan army spokesman could not confirm the incident but had said earlier that Kenyan forces had killed around 10 al-Shabab fighters in the same area.

    Emmanuel Chirchir said: "We bombed an al-Shabab camp, killed 10 and wounded 47. We are sure about this assessment, no collateral damage, no women, no children."

    Al Jazeera's Peter Greste, reporting from the Kenyan capital Nairobi, said that the Kenyan military later "acknowledged that there may well have been civilian casualties, but not as a direct result of their aerial attack".

    "What they're saying is that they had information, they had intelligence on the ground, that there was a high-level al-Shabab meeting taking place at an al-Shabab base very close to this particular camp," Greste said. 

    "They launched their airstrikes. In the process of attacking the camp, there was one particular vehicle they say was loaded with ammunition - with high explosives.

    "The vehicle caught fire, but the driver tried to escape. He drove into the camp and that's where the Kenyan authorities are saying that the vehicle exploded, causing the civilian casualties."

    Al Jazeera was not able to independently confirm the military's claims.

    Battling al-Shabab

    Kenya's conflict with al-Shabab has most recently been sparked by a string of cross-border kidnappings and attacks on civilians in Nairobi. 

    While al-Shabab denies responsibility for the attacks, Abu Omar, a spokesman for the group, told Al Jazeera that they were an "answer" to Kenya's military activities in Somalia.

    "What I can confirm to you right now is that we are not to be held responsible for the explosions or the attacks that have taken place in the Kenyan capital. The trouble that's brewing up in Nairobi is simply an answer to the Kenyan military's hostility towards the people of Somalia," Abu Omar said.

    "What we need to realise is that the Kenyan army has been, for quite a long time, sort of trying to enter Somalia. And we've already stated that the allegations by the Kenyan government were baseless and without any solid evidence.


    Al Jazeera's Peter Greste reports from Nairobi, Kenya

    "We repeatedly urge the Kenyan population to think about their safety and to urge their government to withdraw their troops."

    Kenya's decision to send troops into Somalia initially appeared to have the backing of the Somali government, but Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the Somali president, has since complained that Kenya had no mandate to send its forces.

    The Kenyan military has no firm date for a withdrawal from Somalia, the country's military chief, General Julius Karanga, told a news briefing in Nairobi on Saturday.

    "When the Kenya government and the people of this country feel that they are safe enough from the al-Shabab menace, we shall pull back," Karangi said.

    "Key success factors or indicators will be in the form of a highly degraded al-Shabab capacity."

    Karangi said that Kenya did not wish to permanently occupy Somalia, and that his forces were working alongside the UN-backed Somali government.

    Both the UN and Ethiopia have earlier sent in forces into Somalia at different times in order to stablise the country during its 20-year civil war, but both were forced to withdraw without ending the conflict.

    'No allied involvement'

    Responding to a question regarding any other countries operating in Somalia through the Kenyan intervention, Karangi said that while Kenya had bilateral military agreements with several countries, they were not involved in Nairobi's Somalia operations.

    "There has been a lot of talk about other friends of ours participating militarily in what we are engaged in, and the answer is no," he said.

    "I think the American ambassador yesterday made it very clear ... that they are not militarily involved in the campaign with us."

    Officials present at the briefing dismissed any speculation that the Kenyan government was ready to negotiate with al-Shabab.

    "We will not negotiate with criminal terrorist groups," Francis Kimemia, permanent secretary at the internal security ministry said.

    Yusuf Haji, the Kenyan defence minister, said that international forces in Somalia would soon be strengthened by a boost in AMISOM, the African Union's mission in Somalia, which consists at the moment of 9,000 Ugandan and Burundian troops.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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