By RODNEY MUHUMUZA
Ethiopia Prime Minister Hailemarian Desalegn, front left, walks with Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta, centre, and Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, right, as they attend the closing meeting for the African Union Mission in Somalia AMISOM at Speke Resort Munyonyo in Uganda’s capital Kampala, Sunday Aug. 4, 2013. Regional leaders say they want Somalia’s central government to take control of Kismayo, a disputed port city that has been the scene of fighting between rival militias. (AP Photo/Stephen Wandera)
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — The Somali city of Kismayo “should be handed over” to the central government, regional leaders said at the end of a summit Sunday, a decision that puts pressure on Kenyan troops who face charges of backing a powerful militia in the disputed port city.
African leaders said in a statement at the end of a summit in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, that Kismayo’s airport and seaport should be under the control of Somalia’s central government, which has struggled to assert its authority there despite the exit of al-Shabab militants.
The statement said a “multinational force” should be urgently deployed in Kismayo. It also urged the central government in the capital, Mogadishu, to “reintegrate” into the national army all the militias that have no links with al-Shabab militants.
The Kampala summit was organized under the banner of the African Union peacekeeping force deployed in Somalia, known as AMISOM, and was for countries that have troops in Somalia. The prime minister of Ethiopia and the presidents of Uganda, Kenya and Somalia attended the summit.
The decision on Kismayo puts pressure on Kenya, whose troops in the strategic Somali city have been accused of backing one militia, the Raskamboni brigade, against others in deadly fighting there. The Raskamboni brigade —which helped Kenya to push al-Shabab militants out of Kismayo last year —is led by Ahmed Madobe, a Somali warlord who has established a local administration in Kismayo that is independent of the central government. Madobe is a key power broker around Kismayo, although he is not backed by the federal government in Mogadishu.
After the Raskamboni brigade took the upper hand in fighting for control of Kismayo, Somalia’s government said last month it wanted a “more neutral African Union force” there, an apparent indictment of the conduct of Kenyan troops in Somalia.
Kismayo is important for Kenya, which seeks a friendly buffer zone near its border with Somalia — one of the main reasons it sent troops to Somalia in late 2011 to fight the rebels of al-Shabab, Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaida. But the rival militias now at war there appear to be interested in the economic engine of Kismayo. Its port generates large and reliable income, and has been the export point of Somali-made charcoal that the U.N. has deemed illegal.
In a letter to the African Union, Somalia’s government recently accused AMISOM Section Two — a contingent of African Union forces operating in Kismayo — of launching “a targeted offensive against civilians” and of arresting Col. Abbas Ibrahim Gure, a Somali army official sent to Kismayo by the central government.
Kenyan officials have repeatedly denied taking sides in the Kismayo conflict, saying they are in Kismayo to keep the peace.
Some analysts say fighting in Kismayo is distracting from the main goal of battling al-Shabab, who still stage lethal terrorist attacks even in Mogadishu.