From: Inter Press Service Harare <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: EAST AFRICA-POLITICS: Who is Backing Kenya's 'Guerrillas'?
NAIROBI, Mar 27 (IPS) - A guerrilla group that has allegedly surfaced in Kenya has provided an opportunity for the Kenyan and Sudanese governments to shoot accusations at their favourite targets.
At the centre of what has the makings of a regional controversy is the February 18 Revolutionary Army (FERA), led - according to Nairobi - by 'Brigadier' John Odongo.
The Kenyan government says FERA is the military wing of the February 18 Movement (FEM), an underground organisation Nairobi accuses of aiming to topple the government, although no one knows for sure how big it is or if it really exists.
The Sudanese and Kenyan governments say it does. Sudan's Embassy here claimed last week that the Sudan People's Liber ation Army (SPLA) had trained FERA members, while the Kenyan government accused the opposition as well as neighbouring U ganda of supporting the guerrilla movement.
The FERA affair came into the news in February when Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi, angered by Kampala's refusal to extradite Odongo, accused the Ugandans of harbouring a fugitive who had intentions of beginning a guerrilla war in Kenya.
Moi also claimed that the supposed guerrilla group had the support of the Kenyan opposition and even the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told journalists in Kampala last week that his association with Odongo dated back to 1972, but denied that his government was supporting FERA.
Kampala refused to extradite Odongo, who had refugee status in Uganda, ''because politically it was a problem,'' said Museveni. ''We did not want to be enemies of Moi or his political opponents but rather we wanted to deal with the matter under an international framework.''
Odongo is now in the West African state of Ghana, flown there courtesy of the Ugandan government, which had hoped that, in this way, the guerrilla issue would die.
However, in recent days there have been mass demonstrations in strongholds of Moi's Kenya African National Union (KAN U), with protesters condemning the Ugandan government while burning effigies of the alleged guerrilla leader.
The Kenyan opposition is much more sceptical. Charging that the government's claims were far-fetched, Kenneth Matiba, leader of the Forum for Restoration of Democracy (Ford Asili), said: ''We have heard that before. We have heard of guerrillas before. Where are these guerrillas?''
Matiba said even the international community did not believe Moi's claim that the underground movement existed.
If it did, it would be the latest addition to a patchwork of armed groups in East, Central and the Horn of Africa.
Uganda is battling against a small group called the Lord's Revolutionary Army (LRA), made up mainly of rebels from the north of the country, which borders on both Kenya and Sudan.
Armed Hutu and Tutsi gangs have been battling it out in Burundi in recent days, while Rwanda's former government army and Hutu militias have launched the odd attack on their country from bases in Zaire over the past few months.
Further to the Northeast, Somalia's warlords command thousands of clan fighters while Ethiopia has its share of ethnic-based rebel groups, such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
But the most well-known of the rebel groups are the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which has been fighting against Muslim Arab domination in Southern Sudan, peopled mainly by non-Muslim Blacks, since 1983, although it has split into at least three factions. The war has killed about 1.3 million people.
A statement released last week by the Sudanese embassy here charged that ''hundreds of the February 18 Movement membe rs were trained inside SPLA camps and in the battle zones in Southern Sudan.''
''FERA new recruits were trained as part of an extensive programme in military logistics and use of both heavy and light weapons in the rebel controlled territories of Southern Sudan,'' according to the statement.
But Col. John Garang, head of the main SPLA faction, said at a press conference here that Khartoum's claims were ''a complete fabrication'' aimed at driving a wedge between his group and the Kenyan government.
Said Garang: ''We are a guerrilla movement. We cannot support other guerrilla movements. We just don't have the capacity.'' He added that many Southern Sudanese viewed Kenya as a second home and thus could not support movements opposed to Moi's regime.
Relations between Kenya and Sudan have generally been calm, except at one point last year when Nairobi accused the Khartoum government of plotting to export Islamic fundamentalism here.
However Uganda's Museveni and Sudanese strongman General Omar al Bashir have often accused each other of supporting the LRA and the SPLA respectively, while relations between Nairobi and Kampala have been also characterised by hostility.
So far about 20 people have been convicted of involvement with FERA and jailed for five to ten years. All are from the West Kenyan district of Bungoma, peopled mostly by the Luyia ethnic group and home to opposition leader Michael Kijana Wamalwa.