January 04, 2007

Ethiopia bombs Kenyan village as 400 refugees are expelled

By Standard Team
Kenya has closed its border with Somalia and expelled over 400 refugees in a bold move to lock out fleeing armed Islamic Union Courts fighters.
The drastic move came as reports indicated that the Ethiopian Air Force helicopters pursuing the militia had bombed a village on the Kenyan side of the border.
Unconfirmed reports indicated some villagers in the hamlet — inhabited by pastoralists — may have died and several injured in the attack.
But Foreign Affairs minister Raphael Tuju denied it happened. "There is no such thing, it is a rumour".
The denial was also repeated by Government Spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua.
The Ethiopians have invaded Somalia to help soldiers of Somalia’s fledgling Transitional National Government to battle the Islamists, who had taken control of key towns in the war-torn country.
The joint force managed to beat back the militia, routing them from Baidoa, the seat of the interim government, Mogadishu and their last bastion in Kismayu.
It was then that the Islamists fled towards Kenya, with the well-equipped Ethiopian troops in hot pursuit.
Bombed village inaccessible
On Wednesday, witnesses said the small Kenyan border village of Amey was bombed three times at around 5.30pm on Tuesday, but there was no official confirmation from the Government or the security forces of any casualties.
The far-flung village is only accessible by air, on foot or by donkey carts.
The BBC website also reported the bombing of the village situated some 17kms east of the Liboi border crossing. It, however, reported no casualties.
When contacted by The Standard on Wednesday, the Department of Defence refused to comment on the issue and instead referred the media to the Provincial Administration.
"DoD is just doing logistics in that region, please contact the Provincial Administration," DoD Spokesman Bogita Ongeri said by telephone.
A senior police officer in North Eastern Province who did not want to be quoted confirmed the bombing and said authorities were probing reports of casualties.
The officer said the area was remote and reports indicated some Islamist fighters had sought refuge there.
The Ethiopian Embassy in Nairobi declined to comment on the incident, while North Eastern Provincial Commissioner Mr Kiritu Wamae refused to speak to the media in Garissa.
It’s a violation of international law
Kenya’s action to turn back refugees drew the wrath of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which termed it a violation of international law.
UNHCR Geneva office sent a protest statement to the Government, saying the action was unacceptable.
It said: "About half of the approximately 400 Somalis in the Liboi reception centre had already been screened and registered by Kenyan authorities".
"What the Government has done is inhuman, illegal, and against international obligations on refugees" said the UNHCR Representative in Kenya, Eddie Gedalof.
Speaking in his Westlands office, Gedalof said those turned back included women and small children who had already crossed into Kenya.
"You can imagine women and children who had trekked for hundreds of kilometres being loaded into trucks to be transported back into fear and uncertainty," he said.
A Standard and Kenya Television Network team at the Dadaab refugee camp, reported that the Provincial Administration had barred UNHCR officials from going to Liboi before the expulsion, said to have been supervised by Wamae.
But Tuju remained adamant on the Government position, saying Kenya would no allow the country to be used as a safe haven for fleeing militia.
The minister also, for the first time, announced Government support for the elected Government and denounced the militia.
The action by Kenya came a day after Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf met President Kibaki at Mombasa.
Tuju, who addressed the Press in his office in Nairobi, said the Somalia border would remain closed as there were fears those fleeing combatants who could bring guns into the country.
Said he: "Out of the 11 million people in Somalia, there are only 400 seeking refuge in Kenya which we cannot allow at this time. No amount of annoyance from sections of people will make Kenya change this position".
He said no evidence had been given to show that the Somalia’s transitional government officials were chasing or fighting its people to justify refugee status in Kenya.
The minister said the Islamic Courts Union had been in power illegitimately and that it provoked the transitional government on December 18 in Baidoa, before they were bundled out by Ethiopian troops days later.
Kenya intensifies patrols
Meanwhile, a contingent of Kenyan security personnel, including the military, was still patrolling the volatile border in the wake of intensive fighting in Somalia.
It is believed most Islamist fighters had hidden weapons and fled on foot to villages on Kenyan side after their request to seek entry as refugees failed.
The North Eastern Provincial Police Officer, Mr Antony Kibuchi, and his deputy, Mr John M’mbijiwe, flew to the area and stayed overnight to co-ordinate the security operation following reports that close to 3,000 defeated Islamists had retreated to the common border.
Preliminary reports indicated that the defeated troops, including their leader Sheikh Hassan Aweys and his top commanders, were stranded at the border town of Dobley after Kenyan authorities rejected their request for asylum.
At the Coast’s Kiunga border, security was tight and no refugee was being allowed in.
Latest reports indicated some Islamist leaders were holed up at Kuda and Raskiamboni training camps, while some were reportedly stranded at the Kiunga border town.
Meanwhile, police on Wednesday said the eight Islamist fighters held at the Garissa Police Station were still under investigations and were not likely to be released soon.


No comments: