Ahmed slammed over anti-Kenya comments
Mogadishu - Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed came under fire on Tuesday for casting doubt on the government's support for a Kenyan incursion into the south of the Horn of Africa nation to take on Islamist rebels.
Ahmed said on Monday the Somali government was not happy with the deployment of Kenyan soldiers across the border because the incursion went beyond an initial agreement for logistical support for Somali soldiers.
Kenya sent thousands of troops and heavy weapons into Somalia 10 days ago in a campaign to push Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab rebels away from the border, following a series of kidnappings by Somali gunmen on Kenyan soil.
Kenyan soldiers have advanced on several fronts along with Somali troops and allied militias but there has yet to be a serious showdown with al-Shabaab. The first major confrontation is expected to be in the strategic transit town of Afmadow.
In the Somali town of Dhobley near the border with Kenya, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets on Tuesday waving Kenyan and Somali flags and burning pictures of the president.
"We want Kenya and Somalia to fight al-Shabaab in every corner. We do not have any other hope for life," Gedi Farah, an elder from the Dhobley area, told Reuters by phone.
"Kenya, do not believe the words of our weak, mad president. Please fight al-Shabaab and go deep into Somalia. We want to return to our homes," he said.
Somali military officials and a spokesperson for the pro-government Ras Kamboni militia urged the demonstrators to calm down, saying the president's remarks were not in line with the Somali government's position.
"The Somali government does not support al-Shabaab. It is only the president and that will be solved," said Colonel Yasin Warfa, a government military official.
Kenya on edge
Since being elected as president in 2009 under a UN-hosted peace process, Ahmed has failed to stamp any authority on a country that has lacked effective central government control for two decades.
Since launching an insurgency in 2007, al-Shabaab has seized large chunks of southern and central Somalia and is still battling government troops and African Union soldiers from Uganda and Burundi in parts of the capital Mogadishu.
The group includes hundreds of foreign fighters who are urging jihad against the Western-backed government and al-Shabaab has also struck outside Somalia, killing 79 people in the Ugandan capital Kampala last year.
The group's stated goal is to impose its own harsh version of sharia law throughout the country. Al-Shabaab metes out punishments such as stoning and amputations and bans music, movies and soccer in areas it controls.
Al–Shabaab has threatened to take the "war of flames" to Kenya too. Two grenade attacks in the capital Nairobi on Monday killed one person and wounded nearly 30, although Kenyan police chiefs have not yet drawn a direct link with the Somali rebels.
Al-Shabaab officials have also declined to comment on the twin blasts in Nairobi that have put Kenyans on edge and prompted police to beef up security around potential targets, such as shopping malls and nightclubs.
A moderate Sufi militia in Somalia, Ahlu Sunna, that has supported the government's fight against al-Shabaab, also weighed in against President Ahmed's comments.
"Sherif, if you cannot, or do not want to oust al-Shabaab, let Kenya do it for the sake of the suffering Somalis," spokesperson Sheikh Abdullahi Sheikh Abu Yusuf told Reuters.
"All Somalis support Kenya and no one will join al-Shabaab. People are tired of al-Shabaab," he said.