Downing of Kenya aircraft in Somalia re-ignites uneasy ties

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020 00:00 | By
Some of the debris of the plane that was hit by a grenade in Somalia on Monday. Photo/Courtesy

The uneasy relations between Kenya and Somalia have again been jolted by the downing of a Kenyan humanitarian plane helping in the fight against coronavirus in the war-torn country.

All the six passengers, including the crew, on board the Embraer 120 plane, with tail registration 5Y AXO, owned by African Express died on the spot after it was hit with a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) under unclear circumstances on Monday evening.

Among the dead was the pilot, Hassan, the son of Captain Mussa Bulhan, the proprietor of the aircraft.

Captain Bulhan is said to have flown to Mogadishu to monitor the progress of investigations. “We are waiting for investigations to be completed to enable us determine the cause of the crash.

But so far, we are trying to see if we can be able to identify the remains  of the dead for burial,” Captain Bulhan told the People Daily from Mogadishu.

Quell tempers

Yesterday, Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, moved to quell tensions between the two countries and called his Kenyan counterpart, Uhuru Kenyatta. He promised thorough investigations into circumstances leading to the crash.

Farmajo also invited the Kenyan Civil Aviation Authorities (KCCA) to team up with their Somalia counterparts to expedite investigations into the incident.

“President Mohamed Abdullahi informed President Kenyatta that he had instructed Somalia’s civil aviation authorities to immediately mount an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash of this aircraft which was supporting humanitarian operations in the country,” a statement released by the Somalia Foreign Affairs ministry read.

Farmajo’s call followed Kenya’s protest on the incident that urged Somalia “to thoroughly and swiftly investigate the matter because it impacts humanitarian operations at a time of highest need”.

“The Government of the Republic of Kenya urges the Federal Government of Somalia and International Agencies to thoroughly and swiftly investigate the matter because it impacts humanitarian operations at a time of highest need,” stated a statement from the Foreign ministry.

“The incident occurred under unclear circumstances,” the foreign ministry said, expressing its “deep shock and regret” and offering condolences to the families of the deceased.

Consequently, Kenya urged pilots from the country and other humanitarian aircraft operating in Southern Somalia region to enhance extra precaution in light of the unclear circumstances surrounding the incident.

Although the al Shabaab  group is very active in southern Somalia, Bardale, where the crash occurred is under the control of Somalia and Ethiopian troops.

Soldiers from Ethiopia and Kenya are among those deployed to Somalia as part of an African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission fighting the Islamist insurgents, who control swathes of the countryside.

According to a source, an international NGO had chartered the African Express plane to transport medical supplies from Mogadishu to Adowa, then to Bardale.

The aircraft was about to land at Bardale Airstrip when it was hit with what appeared to be an RPG, and burst into flames.

The crash comes amid strained ties between Kenya and Somalia over the marine border dispute and cross border attacks by the al Shabaab militants.

Unwarranted attack

Last month, Kenya accused Somali troops of an “unwarranted attack” over its border near Mandera, describing the incident as provocation.

Earlier reports had claimed that the plane may have been brought down by Ethiopian military, but the latter denied this.

Military sources had claimed that Ethiopian forces may have hit the plane with an RPG by mistake.

Spokesman for Ethiopian National Defence Force Major-General Mohammed Tessema said he had no information about the crash and instead referred questions to “commanders in Somalia.”

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