24/08/08 (B462) SHABELLE / De violents combats se poursuivent dans un district somalien du sud / Heavy fighting continues southern Somali district

By: Abdinasir Guled

Heavy fighting between Alshabab Islamic fighters and local militias continues in Janay Abdulle district of lower Jubba region for the second day as the two sides engage in some of the heaviest fighting in days.

The latest fighting began when local militiamen ousted by the islamists from Kismayo port city have started reinforcements into the district.

Locals say the militias attacked areas of the city where Islamic insurgents were known to be based.

The offensive involved some the heaviest shelling and machine-gun fire seen in the city this year.

Its yet unknown the causalities of that fighting that still raging in the locale.

The armed militias fighting against Alshabab led by Somali MP Barre Aden Shire aka Hirale who hails from the region.

Alshabab officials confirmed to Shabelle that fighting; as no comments could be reached from Mr. Hirale whose militias are taking part the fighting.

The latest fighting comes as Islamist fighters wrested back control of Somalia’s southern port of Kismayo on Friday following three days of bloody battles with a local militia that left at least 70 people dead, witnesses said.

The retaking of the town by the Islamists came more than a year after they were driven out of Kismayo by Ethiopian forces backing the Somali government.

« We repelled the local militias who tried to stop the light of the Islam religion, » said an Islamist commander and spokesman, Sheikh Muktar Robow.

« We aim to implement Islamic Sharia (law) in the country and any force that tries to stop (us) will regret » it, added the spokesman, a leader of the Shabab organization, the military wing of the Islamic Courts Union which briefly controlled large parts of Somalia in 2006.

Local residents also affirmed the Islamists had seized power in Somalia’s second largest city.

« Kismayo is completely under the control of the Islamists, » said Mohamed Abdi, a trader and former government official.

Another local resident Farah Abdi said: « All militias were driven out and the town is now controlled by the Islamists. »

Three days of clashes have killed 41 people and left several hundred civilians and fighters injured, according to the most recent estimate — taking into account new deaths at Kismayo’s hospital.

« So far 335 people who were wounded in the three day clashes were admitted in the hospital and six of them died from their injuries, » a medical official at the hospital said on condition of anonymity.

Clashes erupted Wednesday between Islamist forces and the militiamen that had controlled Kismayo since the previous rulers fled in early 2007 at the height of the Ethiopian onslaught.

A commander of a local armed group denied his militia had been routed by the Islamists, claiming instead that he had ordered his men to make « a tactical withdrawal to avoid a large number of civilian casualties. »

« There is no complete takeover and our forces will regain control of Kismayo in a very short time, » said the commander, Mohamud Hassan.

Militia in Kismayo, some 500 kilometres (300 miles) south of the capital Mogadishu, are headed by Aden Barre Shire Hirale, a warlord and a lawmaker who has strained relations with President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed’s administration.

According to state television, quoting an Ethiopian army official, 36 extremists had been killed this week in joint operations by Ethiopian and Transitional Government troops.

« Twenty others were injured while two minibuses along with scores of heavy and light arms were captured during the onslaught, » the official in Mogadishu added without commenting on the capture of the port.

Ethiopian troops were deployed in late 2006 to prop up government forces battling the Islamist fighters who had taken control of much of southern and central Somalia. Kismayo was the Islamists’ last stronghold.

Since the toppling of the Islamist movement at the end of 2006, remnant fighters have resorted to guerrilla tactics against the Ethiopian forces, government soldiers and African Union peacekeepers in the capital Mogadishu.

Civilians have borne the heaviest brunt of battles between Islamist fighters and the Ethiopian forces. At least 6,000 have died in the past year alone, many in Mogadishu, the scene of almost daily attacks.

Hardline Islamists, including the spokesman Robow, have rejected a United Nations-backed truce between moderate Islamists and the government reached in June, insisting that the Ethiopians must pull out.

Somalia has lacked an effective government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, sparking a deadly power struggle that has defied numerous bids to restore stability in the Horn of Africa nation.