Battle for Somalia’s Kismayo rages
MOGADISHU - At least seven people have been killed in the latest fighting between rival Somali warlords battling for control of the southern port city of Kismayo, witnesses said Thursday.
Gunmen from the Ras Kamboni militia of former Islamist warlord Ahmed Madobe -- who last month appointed himself "president" of the southern Jubaland region -- battled against forces loyal to Bare Hirale, a former Somali defence minister who also leads a powerful militia army.
"Seven people, three of them civilians, were killed, and four others were injured," said Ali Mohamed, a resident of Kismayo who saw the aftermath of one battle on Wednesday.
"The tensions are still there," Mohamed added.
Several rival factions claim ownership of Kismayo, a former stronghold of the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab, where Kenyan troops in an African Union force are now based.
Kenyan troops, who invaded Somalia in 2011, back Madobe's control of the strategic and economic hub, but neither the title of "president" nor the region of Jubaland is recognised by the weak central government in Mogadishu.
Kismayo was reported quiet on Thursday morning, but residents were nervous and said they feared further fighting.
"The fighting was very heavy on Wednesday, and so far we have not heard of any negotiations going on to end it," said Idris Moalim Ali, another Kismayo resident.
"We are worried about this conflict, several people died on Wednesday."
Two days of heavy fighting earlier this month -- between Madobe's forces and gunmen loyal to Iftin Hassan Basto, another leader claiming to be president -- left at least 31 dead and 38 wounded, according to the UN's World Health Organisation.
Human Rights Watch this week warned that rival factions fighting in Kismayo have "showed little apparent regard for the safety of civilians around them", warning that in the clashes on June 7-8, mortar rounds or artillery shells reportedly smashed into crowded civilian neighbourhoods as well as a medical clinic.
Jubaland lies in the far south of Somalia and borders both Kenya and Ethiopia, and control is split between multiple forces including clan militia, the Shebab, Kenyan and Ethiopian soldiers.
Jubaland joins other semi-autonomous regions of the fractured Horn of Africa nation, including Puntland in the northeast -- which wants autonomy within a federation of states -- and Somaliland in the northwest, which fiercely defends its self-declared independence.
Kenya views the region as a key buffer zone to protect is borders, but in Jubaland, has ended up backing forces opposing the central government it is mandated -- and funded by the UN and European Union -- to support.