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Kenya: British Troops Stand-Off Triggers Diplomatic Row

British troops stand-off triggers a diplomatic row

British troops stand-off triggers a diplomatic row

Blamuel Njururi – Nairobi, June 26, 2014. Kenya has delayed what has been described as “diplomatic clearance” for British military training in Kenya in retaliation for the United Kingdom hostile travel advisory to the country.

As a result around 700 British soldiers are stranded in Kenya after Nairobi held up diplomatic permits for troops, as a row with London over UK travel advisory warning British citizens on travel to the country seemed likely to escalate to a diplomatic to row.

The British troops have been stranded in Kenya for several days after completing infantry training because the Kenyan government has delayed “diplomatic clearance” for their replacements to take over from them. A similar number of British soldiers are also stuck in London as they prepared to fly to Kenya.

Nairobi has delayed clearance for troops from 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, to fly into the country, in what diplomats believe is a rebuke for Britain tightening travel advice to the East African nation.  The delay means troops from the 3rd Battalion, The Rifles, who have finished training and were due to fly out on the planes delivering the Paratroopers, are now stranded.

Diplomatic relations between London and Nairobi have been restrained since Uhuru Kenyatta, the president, came to power alleging that Britain backed his rival, Raila Odinga.

“There has been a delay that we became aware of in the middle of last week in the receipt of diplomatic clearance from the Kenyan authorities for these troops, but we hope this will be resolved shortly.” a spokesman for the British High Commission in Nairobi said.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta

One security source in Nanyuki said: “It’s not clear why the paperwork’s being held up for the soldiers but it’s very hard to think it’s coincidence at a time when the Kenyans are pretty annoyed at the travel advisories and all the earlier stuff.”

“There is hope that this will be sorted out soon,” another source with knowledge of the discussions said. “But I think that the Kenyans might get a surprise, and pretty quickly, if they silly-bugger around on this for too long.”

British military cooperation with Kenya is worth £58 million a year, most of which flows directly into the local economy, largely in and around Nanyuki, Christian Turner, the High Commissioner, said at a speech at the Queen’s Birthday Party in Nairobi last week.

An MoD spokesman said: “The UK has a long-standing, mutually beneficial, defense relationship with Kenya and we hope that the delay in receipt of diplomatic clearances from the Kenyan authorities will be resolved shortly.”

British troops have since Kenya’s independence in 1963 cycled through Kenya for infantry training. A military pact between the two countries on the arrangement is not due for renewal for another two years, but it has become contentious in some Kenyan circles.

Nationalist elements in Uhuru’s party have been nudging his government to terminate the pact for the training as a reprimand for Britain’s perceived favoritism towards the opposition coalition. A British defense source said Britain may now have to charter extra flights to get the stranded troops back from the UK’s training base in the central Kenyan town of Nanyuki.

He said: “3 Rifles have finished and are trying to get back. We are looking at options to do it.”

The row over the British troops comes as the former colonial power was planning to conduct training with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to counter poaching in Kenya. British High Commissioner said the troops planned to train with KWS and the Kenya Forestry Services, on anti-ambush techniques.

The British army has been training in Kenya in Nanyuki and last year in December, the UK offered training to KWS and the KFS. He added different battalions from the UK have regularly been training for six weeks in the country and the counter poaching training is aimed at sharing tactics that will assist in the fight against poaching that has been a global challenge.

Turner refuted reports by sections of the UK media that the troops would train the Kenya Defence Forces to conduct operation against the Al Qaeda network. “That is not true. There is no such arrangement” he said.

KWS Rangers attempt to rescue an elephant shot by poachers at Shimba Hills National Park

KWS Rangers attempt to rescue an elephant shot by poachers at Shimba Hills National Park

The UK’s Daily Mail had stated that the Al Qaeda network was poaching several rhinos and elephants in Kenya to fund terror attacks. But Kenya Wildlife Services head of Communications, Paul Udoto, said there was no evidence linking poaching to terrorism.

“The poachers that have arrested in the past have not shown any linkage to terrorism. Poaching has effectively been fought by nabbing poachers’ illegal cargo at ports and airports through screening” He said.

To help fight poaching, he said the number of warders should be increased. “The warders should also be given equipment and paid well so that they can be motivated to work harder to protect the wildlife from poachers” he said.

Last week police in Mombasa arrested a man with over 200 pieces of ivory. The arrest comes just a month after two suspects were arrested with 152 kilogrammes of ivory estimated to be values at Ksh15million. Kenya Wildlife Services estimates that 71 elephants have been killed by poachers since the beginning of the year.

It was now confirmed however, that the Kenya government has inexplicably either postponed or outright cancelled the training initiative though no authoritative comment could be obtained as yet from any government sources in the Kenyan government.

Only this week President Uhuru placed the KWS field operations, including all assets like vehicles, communications equipment and arms, under the direct control of the country’s police chief, David Kimayo. The police chief critics say he has not inspired confidence among conservationists due to his checkered history both by lack of good fortunes and frequent goofing in public, including the social media.

The British hope KWS rebuff is a temporary delay or postponement rather than throwing the entire training exercise out of the window. Kenya’s elephant lady, Dr. Paula Kahumbu, has expressed her exasperation over the move over Twitter and via her Facebook page.

This is the second such knee jerk decision taken by the Kenyan government following an earlier directive by ssecurity bureaucrats that the use of UAV’s aka drones for the purpose of surveillance by conservancies be banned under the pretext of security. The outcome has led to the killing of two of Kenya’s iconic elephants and increased poaching on rhinos, which the use of this state of the art technology could prevent.

Conservations condemned the ban on the use of UAV’s pointing out that they were not armed and could provide real time images even at night of poaching hotspots and would be operated under a set of strict rules provided by the Kenya Civil Aviation authority and other security organs.

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