The UN envoy to Somalia warned Tuesday that al-Shabab militants are expected to do everything they can to derail elections next year and urged military forces to prepare to respond to any sign the Islamist group is benefiting from its links to extremist groups in nearby Yemen.
Nicholas Kay told the UN Security Council that renewing the joint African Union-Somali offensive against al-Shabab “is an urgent priority.”
Ambassador Maman Sidikou, the AU special representative to Somalia, described the security situation in the country as one “with an elevated terrorism threat.”
“We will be reinvigorating operations against al-Shabab,” he assured council members, adding without elaborating that “there will soon be a massive operation in those places where we are all concerned about.”
Kay and Sidikou spoke by videoconference from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where they addressed the AU Peace and Security Council on Monday.
Somalia has been trying to rebuild after establishing its first functioning central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a longtime dictator and turned on each other, plunging the impoverished nation into chaos. The country’s weak government is being supported by AU and Somali troops against the al-Shabab insurgency.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned in a new report that the crisis in Yemen could open a corridor for jihadist movements through Somalia, which is located just across the Gulf of Aden.
Kay said al-Shabab poses a threat to the wider region, pointing to the massacre of 147 students at Garissa University College in neighbouring Kenya in April.
“We need to monitor closely and be able to respond to any sign that al-Shabab is benefiting from their links to extremist groups in Yemen,” he said.
Kay expressed hopes that the coming weeks will see even closer counter-terrorism co-operation among the 193 UN member states, including measures to prevent and counter violent extremism.
Ban and Kay stressed the importance of international support for the joint military campaign by the AU force, known as AMISOM, and the Somali national army.
Sidikou said a joint AU-UN mission last month to assess progress toward meeting Security Council benchmarks that would lead to the United Nations taking over peacekeeping duties in Somalia found that progress is being made at different speeds to meet the targets.
But he said “the situation in Somalia as a whole is not conducive for the deployment of a UN peacekeeping operation until the end of 2016 at the earliest.”