Kenya Hit by More Cancellations Over Terror Fears

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT


Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - A major international media conference scheduled for the Kenyan capital June 1-4 has been cancelled because of the deteriorating security situation in East Africa.

The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and journalists, said it was canceling its 52\super nd\nosupersub annual congress since it could not guarantee the safety of participants.

Terror attack warnings by the U.S. and British governments, including warnings about plans to target commercial airliners, played a key role in the decision, the IPI said.

The conference is just the latest casualty. British Airways and the Israeli national carrier El Al have suspended all their flights to and from Kenya after warnings of imminent attacks in a region targeted in the past by Islamic terrorists.

Germany, Australia and several other governments have also issued travel warnings to their citizens, and the U.S. Embassy has given staff members permission to leave Kenya if they wish to do so.

The warnings and suspensions have drawn mixed responses from government ministers.

Some called the decisions unnecessary, pointing to the damage being caused to the country's crucial tourism industry. Many Britons visit, so the British Airways decision and government warning are regarded as particularly damaging.

But others said security considerations should take priority.

Information and Tourism Minister Raphael Tuju supported the issuing of terror alerts and flight suspensions, saying the authorities concerned had acted responsibly.

"When terrorist attacks occur, more Kenyans die than Americans, Britons or Israelis," he pointed out. "I would rather have suspension of flights than have people die."

Terror attacks in Kenya since 1998 have killed hundreds of people, most of them Kenyans. Twelve Americans died when a huge bomb destroyed the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998.

Three Israelis and 10 Kenyans died in another attack last November at an Israeli-owned hotel in the coastal city of Mombasa. A simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner failed.

Recently, Kenyan police warned that suspected al Qaeda operative Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, accused of involvement in both the 1998 embassy bombings and last November's bombing in Mombasa, had been spotted in Mogadishu, capital of neighboring Somalia.

He was suspected to be planning further strikes in the region and was thought able to pass at will across the porous Kenya-Somalia border.

Despite Kenya's experiences of terror, some here expressed disappointment at the cancellation of the media congress, which was to have tackled issues including press freedom, ethics and the underreporting on Africa in the global media.

Media executive Wilfred Kiboro, chairman of the conference organizing committee, said the decision was a blow to Kenya and Africa as a whole.

Kenyan police officials had guaranteed the safety of visitors, he said, noting that Kenya Airways was still flying, so foreign participants would have had no difficulty reaching the country.

"The reaction by both the U.S. and British governments gives the terrorists a moral victory," he charged. "This is not the best way to fight terrorism."

But security analyst James Mwangi said the terror attacks in the North African country of Morocco last week emphasized the seriousness of the alerts issued by the various governments.

"Based on the trends of previous attacks, it is very likely that the Moroccan attacks were planned to be simultaneous with those of East Africa," he said.

Kenyan Security Minister Chris Murungaru said he had no knowledge of any link between the attacks in Casablanca and those expected in East Africa.

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