24/08/08 (B462) SHABELLE / Un peu de répit aprés les violents combats dans la capitable somalienne / Calm after fight for Somali town (En Anglais – Info lectrice)

Local people are slowly returning to Kismayo town of lower Jubba region, after islamist fighters wrestled the control of the town.

Most shops and businesses are still shut, and civilians are said to be returning, despite the hundreds of islamist fighters now in the town.

One resident, Asha Mohammed, said she returned to the town to see her house again..

Several hundred islmmist troops are now on patrol in Kismayo.

Eleven-year-old Aktar Mohammed, who remained in the town during the battle, said many of his family members fled.

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.