The dual-fronted fight against al-Shabab militants presents a "historic opportunity" to restore stability in the failed state of Somalia, the presidents of Kenya, Uganda and Somalia said Wednesday.
Kenya sent hundreds of troops into Somalia last month to hunt down al-Shabab militants, whom it blames for a string of kidnappings in Kenya. Uganda has thousands of troops in Mogadishu as part of an African Union force, which is also piling pressure on al-Shabab _ an al-Qaida-linked militant group that is waging an insurgency against the Somali government.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed said in a statement after their meeting that there needs to be enhanced cooperation between Somali, Kenyan and African Union forces in the fight against al-Shabab.
A Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs official said over the weekend that Kenya will seek Ahmed's commitment to fighting al-Shabab after he publicly told Kenya last month to halt its military advance in southern Somalia. The remarks caused dismay among American and European diplomats in Kenya.
"When he comes here we will be able to ensure that he recommits or he reaffirms the operation inside Somalia," Lindsay Kiptiness, an assistant director of foreign service, said.
On Wednesday, Ahmed joined his fellow presidents in saying that they are committed to jointly pursuing the objective of defeating al-Shabab and other militant groups.
Somalia has been in chaos for more than 20 years. The lawless country is a haven for pirates and international terrorists, and the conflict is causing a major famine that has killed tens of thousands of Somalis.
The three heads of state encouraged humanitarian agencies to relocate to parts of Somalia that have been liberated from al-Shabab's grip. They also asked African countries that have pledged to send troops to the African Union force to fulfill their pledges.
The presidents also said they are concerned that Kenya had been left with the burden of more than 400,000 Somali refugees who live in Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp.