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Pentagon chief Panetta visits Libya
by Staff Writers
Tripoli (AFP) Dec 17, 2011

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta was in Tripoli on Saturday on the first visit to Libya by a Pentagon chief to study up close the security needs of the new government.

During the visit, which was to last only a few hours, Panetta was to meet Defence Minister Osama Jouili and Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib, an AFP correspondent travelling with him said.

"The purpose of my trip to Libya is to have an opportunity to look at that situation up close but to also pay tribute to the Libyan people to what they did in bringing (Moamer) Kadhafi down and trying to establish a government for the future," Panetta told the travelling press.

"There are going to be challenges here, there are going to be difficulties, but I think any country like Libya, that was able to do what they did and showed the courage that they did ... I'm confident that ultimately they're going to be able to succeed in putting a democracy together in Libya.

"The indications I've had are that they're making progress, trying to bring the tribes together, trying to get the country together."

"They have earned the right to try to determine their future, to work their way to the issues that they're going to have to confront.

"Obviously, we're prepared, if they want to, provide whatever assistance they ask us to do. NATO countries have indicated the same willingness to do that."

Enforcement by the Atlantic alliance of a UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya was crucial in the months-long battle to oust Kadhafi that began in February.

Libya's new rulers are also facing a big challenge as they try to disarm militiamen who fought to topple Kadhafi and secure thousands of surface-to-air missiles stockpiled under the former regime.

Pressure to disarm the former rebels has mounted after local media reported several skirmishes between militia factions in Tripoli, with some resulting in casualties.

There are concerns that the Man-Portable Air Defence Systems, or MANPADS, could be used by militant groups against commercial airliners and helicopters.

Panetta travelled to Libya from Turkey, where he held wide-ranging talks. On Thursday, he was in Iraq to take part in a ceremony marking the end of the US mission.

His visit came a day after the United Nations and the United States lifted sanctions on Libya's central bank in a bid to ease a cash crunch in the post-Kadhafi era, diplomats said.

The Tripoli authorities have stepped up calls in recent weeks to release the estimated $150 billion frozen abroad to help pay salaries and keep services running.

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Kenya vows air strikes on far-flung Shebab towns
Nairobi (AFP) Dec 17, 2011 - Kenyan troops battling Shebab insurgents in southern Somalia vowed Saturday to carry out air strikes deeper into rebel-held territory.

Military information and operations officer Colonel Cyrus Oguna said they would target Afgoye, a town near Mogadishu and home to thousands of displaced people, as well as the ports of Merka and Barawe on the southern coast.

"We are developing targets in areas of Afgoye, Merka, Barawe and we want to hit deep into their (Shebab) own areas," Oguna told reporters.

"We want to send a message to those living close to Al-Shebab infrastructure to try and stay away from those infrastructure because we are developing them as legitimate objectives."

Since launching an offensive against the Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents two months ago, Kenyan warplanes have struck rebel bases mainly in the south, and Oguna said several Shebab fighters were killed in air strikes in the past week.

"Air raids will continue until Al-Shebab is completely destabilised and dislodged," he added.

Kenyan forces are in three locations in southern Somalia, but have made little territorial advances since deploying in mid-October.

Nairobi has agreed to have its forces operate under the African Union Mission in Somalia, a 9,700-strong force made up of Burundian and Ugandan troops tasked with protecting the weak Somali government in the capital Mogadishu.

Inside Kenya in recent weeks, several civilians have been injured or killed in grenade and landmine attacks in areas near the porous Kenya-Somalia border which are blamed on the Shebab.

Kenya sent troops across the border to battle the hardline militants it blamed for a spate of kidnappings and attacks on home soil.


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Casamance rebel faction condemns attack on Senegal troops
Ziguinchor, Senegal (AFP) Dec 15, 2011
A faction of the divided rebel Casamance movement on Thursday condemned a rebel attack on a Senegalese army post that killed several soldiers earlier this week. The attack on Tuesday killed several soldiers in the southern province, a military source and a local lawmaker told AFP. But the rebel Movement of Democratic Forces (MFDC) secretary general Jean-Marie Biagui slammed the attack, a ... read more

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