, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 19 – Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula now says Kenya was prompted to send its troops to fight off Al Shabaab militants at invitation from the Somalia government.
Wetangula told reporters the military offensive against the terror group should therefore, not be seen as an invasion into Somalia territory “because it is aimed at fighting a common enemy between the two countries.”
“First of all there is no invasion, and Kenya has no intention of invading any country. Kenya has not and will not invade any country whether it is Somalia or any other country for that matter.”
In an apparent reference to critics who are opposed to the offensive against the Al Qaeda-linked group, Wetangula said, “Kenya cannot sit back and watch as its neighbour gets problems from a group that has even escalated to our territory.”
“When a neighbour is in a problem and invites you, it does not become an invasion. Somalia has been having problems with these militias called Al Shabaab and they reached a point and probably thought Somalia is not big enough and they decided to spill over to Kenya,” he said and warned that “we will fight them off and we are working with the TFG.”
Speaking to journalists on arrival from Mogadishu where he was accompanied by Defence Minister Yusuf Haji, Wetangula also dismissed those opposed to the offensive on grounds that it may strain relationships between Kenya and the fragile government of Somalia.
“How does it strain relationships between us and Somalia? How can it be said to be an invasion and here we have a government delegation that went inside Mogadishu to hold talks with the government of Somalia. We remain friendly nations with a common objective of driving off Al Shabaab,” he said.
During the Mogadishu meeting, Wetangula said a car bomb was planted on a route they were to use to the airport.
“We have now come back home in one peace and as you know as we were leaving Mogadishu, there was an explosion on a route we were to use to the airport but it was changed at the last minute,” he said and sent Kenya’s condolence to the families of people killed and injured in the blast.
He was not categorical if the bomb was targeted at them.
The minister said Kenya had also received the blessings of the African Union and neighbouring Ethiopia in its offensive “against the common enemy” which has been blamed for a series of kidnappings including those of four Europeans among them Frenchwoman Marie Dedieu who died Wednesday while in captivity in Somalia.
“By all means, with all the capacity available we did agree that it is the primary duty of the government of Somalia to protect its territorial integrity and show their responsibility to the region by not allowing elements of destruction in their soil,” the minister said and expressed full support of Kenya to the neighbouring country.
“And we did agree that the Somalia forces supported by Amisom troops and neighbours of good will like Kenya will do everything humanly possible to neutralize these negative elements to make the Horn of Africa region secure,” he in reference to the military offensive Kenya has been undertaking deep inside Somalia where its troops have seized three towns since Saturday.
During the Mogadishu meeting, Wetangula said the Kenyan delegation had also met and held talks with the chairman of the African Union Commission Jean Ping.
“We also briefed the chairman of the AU on the events occurring on the Kenya Somalia frontier and he fully appreciated and further voiced AU’s full support to Kenya in whatever endeavour we take to defend our territory for the sake of peace and security of our people,” he said.
He said Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Melez Zenawi who also attended the talks in Mogadishu has announced his government’s backing of Kenya in the Al Shabaab attack.
“We also had a message from Kibaki to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi and he has given his unequivocal and steadfast support for any efforts Kenya is taking to protect its boundaries and its people,” Wetangula said.
The military headquarters in Nairobi announced that their troops had so far killed some 73 Al Shabaab militias but it did not say if it had suffered any casualties on its side.
“Other than the killing of five soldiers who died when our helicopter crashed in Liboi, we have not had casualties. Our troops have killed 73 Al Shabaab militias,” said Major Emmanuel Chirchir who briefs the media on the progress of the offensive in Somalia.