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Kenya-Somalia Tension Rises Amidst Drought


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

In drought-stricken East Africa, Somali militants have vowed war on neighboring Kenya. It happened after Kenya sent hundreds of troops across the border to search out and destroy Islamist militants. The cross-border action followed a series of kidnappings and attacks in Kenya, targeting aid workers and Western tourists. Kenya now says its forces won't leave Somalia until the threat is over.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in Kenya's capital of Nairobi, and joins us now.

Ofeibea, Kenya says it's going to stay in Somalia until Kenyans feel safe. But when will that be?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Indeed, that's the question that many Kenyans are asking after the chief of defense forces, General Julius Karangi, said that they were there for as long as they need to be; that they are going to fight the Somali militants, the al-Shabaab terror as they're calling it. But lots of Kenyans are saying, does this mean we're going to get bogged down in a long conflict. And, of course, the Kenyan army has not crossed its borders.

In anger for very many years, it's a conventional army taking on a guerilla force. But Kenyans are also saying, look, are we going to be attacked on our territory. So many, many questions are being asked this end. And especially this question, Audie: Is Somalia going to become Kenya's Vietnam?

CORNISH: And, of course, al-Shabaab is the Islamist group that controls large portions of Somalia. But has that group actually taken responsibility, or it claimed credit for the kidnapping of tourists and aid workers in the refuge camps and along Kenya's coast?

QUIST-ARCTON: Absolutely not, Audie. And al-Shabaab - when it has hit, or has hit out, or has attacked - usually does claim responsibility. So it is although the Kenyan government is blaming al-Shabaab for the abduction of these two Spanish women aid workers near the border with Somalia at a refugee complex that houses Somali refugees fleeing hunger, famine and conflict, al-Shabaab has not claimed any responsibility for that. Neither has it claimed responsibility for kidnapping a British woman and French woman, who has since died, along the coast.

So many people are saying - at least al-Shabaab is saying - this is a pretext by the Kenyan authorities to invade our country, and has vowed to strike back.

CORNISH: This is of course happening in the middle of, as you mentioned, a famine and hunger crisis in the area. What does that mean for what's going on there?

QUIST-ARCTON: Complications. Relief workers and aid agencies are saying, look, al-Shabaab controls for much of central and southern Somalia. Now, it's into southern Somalia that Kenya has sent its troops. Is this going to complicate matters, that although the al-Shabaab has said that it doesn't want Western and other aid agencies operating in its area, that aid workers have been able to come to an agreement with some al-Shabaab commanders and are able to help people who are suffering from hunger and famine. So questions are being asked by the aid community and by others.

What the Kenyans are saying is that, you know, we have insecurity at our border, we need to deal with this. And we have even insecurity inside our country. Yes, there is a famine. Yes, there is a problem in Somalia. But everybody has to deal with this problem. Somalia must be dealt with internationally.

CORNISH: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Nairobi, Kenya. Thank you, Ofeibea.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.