Residents of Kenya-Somalia Border area fear conflict Amid Diplomatic Tensions

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NAIROBI – There is growing concern the tensions between Kenya and Somalia may erupt into fighting, due to a military buildup along the two countries’ borders.

The Somali federal government has sent troops to the border town of Beled-Hawo, while forces from Somalia’s Jubaland region, which enjoys a good relationship with Kenya, are stationed in the nearby Kenyan town of Madera.

Mohamed Maaalim Mahamud is the Mandera County senator. He said his people should not bear the brunt of the bad diplomatic relations between the two countries.

“We don’t want a situation where these two forces fight and our people’s lives are in danger,” Mohamud said. “We have now Kenya and Somalia relations apparently is not good for the last two days but this should not be borne to Mandera people.”

Hundreds of fighters allied to Jubaland Interior Minister Abdirashid Janan have been stationed in Madera for months. Last March, these forces launched a cross-border attack in Beled Hawo, killing dozens.

On Tuesday, Madera residents took to the streets to demand the Jubaland forces to leave and stop endangering their lives.

The protest took place after the Somali government sent hundreds of soldiers to secure the Beled-Hawo area.

Fifty-year-old Jamaa Warsame is one of the elders in Beled-Hawo.

He said the residents of the town cannot afford to flee their homes this time of the year.

Warsame said that during this time it’s really hot, dry and there is drought. He says, we are so much against any conflict this time. He said we would like to urge our government that is in control of the area to find a solution and reach an agreement with those who are opposing it so that we can enjoy the peace we have now.

Last week, Somalia cut diplomatic ties with Kenya. The federal government accuses Kenya of interfering with its internal affairs — an accusation that Kenyan official deny.

George Musamali is the head of the Center for Risk Management in Africa. He says any conflict between Kenya and Somalia would be felt beyond the border area.

“We have always been having incursions across the border inside Kenya, the place has always been volatile and now we are seeing build up of forces along the border,” Musamali said. “Then this is going to make a major threat for security in the entire area and it’s going to affect not only Kenya, it’s going to affect the Great Lakes region in general. I believe we need to have a diplomatic solution to this row as opposed to bringing forces along the border clearly indicating that there is hostility.”

For its part, the Jubaland government has insisted on the withdrawal of government forces in the neighboring Gedo region, a demand that the government in Mogadishu has refused to accept.