By Noor Ali
ISIOLO, Kenya (Reuters) – Somalia’s U.N.-backed government has recruited more than 170 young Kenyans and former servicemen to help it fight rebels in the failed Horn of Africa state, local leaders in eastern Kenya said.
Mohamed Gabow, the mayor of Garissa, told Reuters the enrolment of ethnic Somali Kenyans was being conducted at a home in Bulla Iftin village, on the outskirts of his town.
“The recruitment is not a secret. Those involved are not worried. They are going around all the villages to announce the exercise,” Gabow said in an interview late on Thursday.
Gabow called for there to be an investigation.
“We are raising an alarm. Our community must not be used to kill its kin or risk the lives of its people.”
Local police commander Paul Mukoma dismissed the report as a rumor and said no official complaint had been lodged.
“No local leader or any parent has come forward to inform us about any such reports,” he told Reuters.
Western donors agreed at a meeting in Brussels in April to give Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s administration nearly $214 million to help build up a police force of some 10,000 personnel and a 5,000-strong security force.
But less than a third of the aid pledged to help end 18 years of lawlessness in the country and in waters off its coast has been received, U.N. officials say.
Mohamed Khalif, a human rights activist in Garissa, said more than 300 Kenyans had enrolled to fight for Ahmed’s government, which is battling a stubborn Islamist insurgency.
But he said only about half of that number had so far left to fight, with the rest apparently succumbing to pressure from family and friends not to cross the border and take up arms.
Washington accuses one of Somalia’s two main rebel groups — al Shabaab — of being al Qaeda’s proxy in the country.
“We have not asked Kenya to recruit soldiers for us,” Somalia’s Information Minister, Dahir Mohamud Gelle, told Reuters in Mogadishu. “(Kenya’s) Northeastern province where the soldiers are being recruited is not part of Somalia.”
Locals say finding more willing gunmen will not be hard for Somali authorities in a region where marginalization and drought for a fifth year running is forcing many into severe hunger.
One security source in the area said recruits were being offered 30,000 shillings ($400) a month, while experienced former Kenyan servicemen were being offered 40,000 shillings.
“Youths in this province are desperate. They can get more who are ready to take any risk just to earn a living,” Khalif told Reuters. “Some have joined al Shabaab. Many have been killed. They are traveling to their graveyards in Somalia.”
(Additional reporting by Abdi Guled in Mogadishu; Writing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura; Editing by Daniel Wallis)
($1=75.00 Kenyan Shilling)