Kenya govt wants to see Westgate Mall reopened

NAIROBI (AFP) - Kenya's government has given the first sign that Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall may one day reopen for business despite being partially destroyed in last month's attack by Islamist gunmen.

At least 67 people died in the massacre and siege of the upmarket complex, and the rear of the four-storey building collapsed following a huge blaze that was sparked by fierce fighting between the militants and security forces.

Sources close to the ongoing forensic investigation say that it will take at least another month to clear the rubble. The Kenyan Red Cross has said some 39 people are still listed as missing, and there are fears more bodies could be found in the wreckage.

But in a meeting with shop owners late Wednesday, Kenya's Commerce Minister Phyllis Kandie said she wanted to see Westgate resume business and promised government help.

"The Government of Kenya is sincerely committed to ensuring that Westgate Mall operations do resume within the shortest time possible through a public-private partnership model," she said.

"Through this partnership, we shall be further seeking to ensure the overall national economic resilience following the tragic events by reducing levels of business collapse, investor apathy and job losses," the minister added.

Prior to the attack, the Westgate shopping mall generated more than 100 billion Kenyan shillings (S$1.5 billion) in annual turnover and accounted for over 2,000 jobs. Reports say the mall was insured for 6.6 billion Kenyan shillings, with the policy covering damage by terrorist attack.

The minister did not appear to address widespread allegations that shops in the mall were looted by security forces in the wake of the siege.

It also remains unclear if any survey of the mall has yet taken place to establish if any wider structural damage to the shopping centre was caused by the collapse of the parking area.

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