MANDERA, Kenya, Mar 26 – The five Kenyan education officials abducted by Al Shabaab militiamen in Mandera on Wednesday were still in captivity on Thursday and the Somali gunmen were insisting negotiations must be done through their leaders in Mogadishu.,
A source quoting emissaries dispatched to Bula Hawa region where the officials were being held said the negotiations had hardly kicked off, when the gunmen changed tact and demanded that their leaders be consulted.
“The abductors are changing tact, they are putting up conditions that their bosses must be involved. They want the talks from their side to be done by people in Mogadishu,” the source who did not want to be named said.
“No agreement has been reached yet, though two emissaries dispatched yesterday have been in constant touch with the abductors,” he added.
The abductors had initially demanded ransom but did not state how much money they wanted, complicating the situation even further, our sources said.
Those abducted include Wajir South District Education Officer Moses Mwangi, North Eastern Provincial Education Quality Assurance Officer Onchiri Onyancha, District Education Quality Assurance Officer North Eastern Province Charles Nyakundi, Early Childhood Education Officer Wajir South District Abdullahi Madey and a driver with the Ministry of Education North Eastern Province a Mr Abdikadir.
According to police, the officials were abducted at about 11.30 am on Wednesday when they ventured inside Somalia.
“The five had crossed the border from Mandera town to go to the border village of Bula Hawa inside Somalia for shopping,” Police Commissioner Mohammed Hussein Ali said in a statement.
Police Spokesman Erick Kiraithe and Government Spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua insisted the government was doing everything possible to secure the release of the officials.
“Our people are on the ground and we hope for the best. We do not want to pre-empt anything. Emissaries sent there have established contact with the abductors and they are talking,” he said and refused to comment on reports that the gunmen had changed tact to involve their leaders in the talks.
In his weekly government briefing, Dr Mutua on his part said the matter was being handled from ‘very high levels.’
“Currently, various government agencies are working on it from a very high level and we have initiated discussions with the Somali government authorities,” he said.
He said emissaries sent to Somalia were under instructions to only negotiate with government representatives in that lawless country and not the militia group.
“The Kenyan government is talking to the government of Somalia and not the unofficial groupings there. It is a government to government affair. The government of Kenya can not negotiate with unofficial groupings,” he said.
He said the government was concerned of the abductions and was taking ‘all necessary measures to have them released.’
“We want to assure all Kenyans and the affected families that there is no cause for alarm. We are taking this matter very seriously,” he said.
Asked whether the Kenyans were abducted inside Somalia or Kenya, he said: “The abduction occurred at the border area. There is no fence at the border. The key word here is abduction and not whether it was inside Somalia or in Kenya.”
The Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations on its part said it was opposed to payment of ransom to Al Shabab militia ‘because it will encourage impunity’.
Chairman Adan Keynan urged the government to only employ diplomacy in the negotiations.
“As a committee, we have always been opposed to payment of money to the any group, whoever they are. Whether they are Al Shebab or whichever group. It will encourage such activities,” he told reporters in Nairobi.
“Paying ransom does not help at all, it is the wrong way of doing things. They should not be paid at all because this is a rag-tag militia group, nobody knows who they are. They should just release the Kenyans unconditionally,” he added.
Keynan and other legislators in the committee said they were ready to assist in the negotiations to ensure the Kenyans are released.
“I know what the government is going through, Somalia has no stable government and I know it is difficult to do the negotiations but we are ready to help, in our committee there are many experts and I even come from that region (North Eastern),” he said.