France supports Kenyan army in Somalia

2011-10-24 22:18

Nairobi - France's embassy on Monday denied that French naval vessels had carried out any attacks in Somalia, but a military spokesperson said France would soon help supply Kenyan troops fighting al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Thierry Burkhard said French transport planes will fly supplies from Nairobi to an airport in northern Kenya beginning Monday or Tuesday, but he insisted the operation would be "limited in scope".

A Kenyan military spokesperson on Sunday said that France's navy bombed a town in Somalia near a stronghold of al-Shabaab. But the French Embassy on Monday denied that claim, saying that no French warships are in the vicinity.

Burkhard said there was "no French operation in Somalia".

The Kenyan military sent troops into neighbouring Somalia about 10 days ago to pursue the militants following a string of kidnappings on Kenyan soil that were blamed on Somali gunmen.

Al-Shabaab has threatened to launch suicide bombings inside Kenya in retaliation, and the US Embassy warned late on Saturday than an imminent terrorist attack is possible.

A grenade attack that wounded a dozen people at a downscale Nairobi pub early on Monday heightened those fears.

The attack aroused suspicion that Somali militants were responsible, but the explosion did not bear the hallmarks of a well-planned terror assault. The US warning said likely targets include shopping malls and night clubs where foreigners congregate.

But the grenade explosion occurred at a downtrodden bar where only lower-income Kenyans meet.

Russian F1 grenade

Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere told a news conference on Monday that the grenade exploded at 01:15  while 20 people were inside the bar. Three people were seriously wounded, he said. The blast overturned chairs and tables, and blood stained the floor. Iteere said police did not yet have any suspects.

"It is too early at this point in time to give a conclusive answer," he said, adding later: "The person who lobbed the grenade into the pub was not seen by anybody."

Police have tightened security around hotels, bridges and fuel depots, Iteere said.

The weapon used on Monday was a Russian-made F1 grenade, he said. A similar type of grenade was used in a down town Nairobi attack in December 2010 at a bus station. One person was killed. Six people were killed when three grenades exploded at a political rally in down town Nairobi in June 2010.

No one has been successfully prosecuted for those attacks and it was unclear whether Monday's attack was linked to the Kenyan military intervention in Somalia earlier this month.

Kenya said it sent troops in after a string of kidnappings and attacks on Kenyan soil over the past two months. But analysts say the plan pre-dates the kidnappings, pointing out that Kenya has been pushing for the creation of a buffer state along its shared border with Somalia for more than two years.

During that time, the Kenyan military recruited and trained a pro-government militia nicknamed the "Jubaland" force. Last week they said they plan to push on to al-Shabaab's main base in the port city of Kismayo and will stay in southern Somalia until al-Shabaab is defeated.

Inappropriate and unacceptable

In a sign of the political complexities surrounding the operation, the Somali president said on Monday that the Kenyan military incursion is "inappropriate and unacceptable," contradicting a statement from both governments last week that they were working together.

"We welcome our collaboration with Kenya, but there are inappropriate things going on now. We want Kenya to help our troops, but don't want its troops just entering into Somalia. The Somali government and our people will not accept that," said president Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed.

"Kenya has been a good neighbour to us for a long time. We have not seen any intervention from Kenya in decades but what's going now is creating suspicions," he added.

He did not say why his position had changed, but analysts have long said that the weak UN-backed government, which currently only controls the capital, is wary of any potential rivals for its international patronage.

It is also worried that Kenya might install its own administration in Kismayo, which is the insurgency's main source of revenue.

Currently al-Shabaab is fighting on two fronts, against the UN-backed government and its African Union supporters in the capital and against Kenyan troops supporting pro-government militia in the south. But Ahmed's remarks threw doubt on how closely the two governments have been co-ordinating their offensives or their policies.