Kenya dismisses refugee camp airstrike as rebel propaganda

NAIROBI Mon Oct 31, 2011 9:29pm IST

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya on Monday dismissed as "al Shabaab propaganda" reports that its warplanes hit a refugee camp in southern Somalia where five people were killed and 45 wounded a day earlier.

Kenya's military said its jets hit the town of Jilib on Sunday in an operation targeting fighters from the Somali insurgent group, killing 10 and wounding many.

Kenyan military spokesman Emmanuel Chirchir told Reuters the airstrike hit an al Shabaab vehicle armed with an anti-aircraft gun and loaded with ammunition near the camp. He said it caught fire and was driven into the camp in search of human shields, but exploded.

"Instead of taking it to safety, he drove it into the IDP (internally displaced persons) camp," Chirchir said. "We were on point in terms of accuracy."

Kenya sent troops into Somalia in mid-October in pursuit of the Somali militants it blames for a series of kidnappings on Kenyan soil and frequent assaults on its security forces in the border province of North Eastern.

Gautam Chatterjee, Head of Mission for aid agency Medecins Sans Frontiers Holland in Somalia, said earlier on Monday that five people had been killed and 45 wounded, mostly women and children, in an explosion in the camp.

"In our hospital in Marare, we received 31 children, nine women and five men. All of them of with shrapnel injuries," he told Reuters from Nairobi. He said three children, one man and one woman had been killed in the blast.

MSF, which said the explosion happened during an aerial bombardment, has evacuated its team from Jilib and suspended operations helping some 1,500 households in the camp.

The first serious clash between Kenyan troops and al Shabaab militants was last Thursday. Kenya said it killed nine rebels and that one Kenyan soldier wounded in the insurgent ambush subsequently died.

SEEKING ICC HELP

Odinga said on Monday no Somali civilians had been targeted by the Kenyan air force, and reports of civilian deaths at the hands of its military were propaganda.

"It would be most unfortunate, but the information we have is that it's just al Shabaab propaganda. That is what we have from our own forces," he told a news conference in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, with his Somali counterpart.

"If that happened really, and there were civilian casualties, then it's an unfortunate incident, and we're sorry about that," said Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali.

The two prime ministers signed an agreement on Monday after talks outlining the joint operation against al Shabaab.

The countries said they would be calling on the International Criminal Court in The Hague to start immediate investigations into crimes against humanity committed by members of al Shabaab.

They also called for financial and logistical support from international donors to help blockade the southern Somali port of Kismayu, which is an al Shabaab stronghold.

"Kismayu is the major supply port for al Shabaab. Our intention is to blockade it, to cut off the supply line for al Shabaab," said Odinga.

MORE AU TROOPS NEEDED

He also said they would be seeking United Nations support for the operation and that more soldiers would be needed for an African Union peacekeeping force (AMISOM) already in Mogadishu to secure areas liberated by Kenyan and Somali troops.

The offensive by Kenyan troops in southern Somalia comes as AMISOM is battling al Shabaab rebels for full control of the capital.

U.N. special envoy to Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, said on Monday that Somali troops and AMISOM now control 98 percent of the coastal capital, but that the 9,000-strong African Union force needed reinforcements to deal with guerrilla-style attacks in so-called "asymmetric warfare".

"In the north east of the city we are witnessing a combination of conventional warfare as well as asymmetrical warfare. It is of course quite a challenge and sends a big reminder to the troop contributing countries that we should be expediting the deployment of the remaining 3,000 troops," he said.

"There is a need for additional equipment like helicopters and engineering teams to deal with asymmetric warfare," he told reporters in Nairobi.

AU forces from Uganda came under attack from two suicide bombers on Saturday in the capital. The AU force said two of its soldiers had been wounded, although sources said some Ugandan troops had been killed in a brief firefight.

Al Shabaab said it had killed 80 Ugandan soldiers in a two-hour battle. The insurgents have inflated death tolls from attacks in the past, while AMISOM has also underplayed actual casualty levels.

(Additional reporting by Richard Lough, Aaron Maasho and Yara Bayoumy.; Writing by David Clarke; Editing by Richard Lough and Matthew Jones)

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