Islamist insurgents have taken control of the port city of Kismayo in
southern Somalia. As Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau
in Nairobi, the city returned to calm on Saturday after three days of
fighting that left more than 60 people dead, according to residents.
Somalia's second largest city, is a strategic port on the country's
southern coast near the border with Kenya. It was the last town held by
Somalia's Islamic Courts Union when Ethiopian troops backing the
country's interim government retook control of southern and central
Somalia in the last days of 2006.
Recently, a clan-based militia
that supported the transitional government had been in charge of
Kismayo. But after three days of fighting that began on Wednesday,
al-Shabab, a hardline military faction of the Islamist movement, took
control of the city on Friday, with the warlord formerly in control
A politician from the former clan-based
administration, who asked not be named out of fear for his safety, told
VOA that over 60 people had died and hundreds were wounded. And the
hospital has neither enough medicine nor enough nurses to respond to
He said former administrators had been asked to
stay indoors. The city has been calm since sunset on Friday and there
have been no reports of people being attacked in their homes. But, he
says, people do not know what will happen next.
Aweys Hassan, a local businessman, says the city is calm again, and commercial activity has resumed.
are an uncountable number of dead and wounded in the hospital, he says.
Although the fighting was a disaster, there has been a big change in
the city, and people seem to be welcoming it. The Islamists have said
they will impose Sharia law, breaking with the previous clan politics.
al-Shabab leader, Sheikh Muktar Robow, also told reporters that the
Islamists would implement Sharia law in Kismayo, as the Islamic Courts
did in much of southern and central Somalia when the region was under
their control in late 2006.
The fighting in Kismayo followed the
signing of a U.N.-backed peace deal in Djibouti on Monday between the
transitional government and a more moderate faction of the Islamist
opposition. Al-Shabab, which has been labeled a terrorist organization
by the United States, suspected of ties to al-Qaida, has rejected the
deal, highlighting the divisions within the opposition and the scant
chances of success for the ceasefire.
have been waging a growing Iraq-style insurgency against the
government, and the Ethiopian troops backing it, since being ousted
from control of Mogadishu. Thousands have died and over one million
have been displaced by the fighting, which, along with drought and high
inflation, has turned Somalia into what the U.N. has called Africa's
worst humanitarian crisis.
The fighting has been heaviest in
Mogadishu. Until this week, Kismayo had been relatively peaceful. Eyes
are now on the internationally-supported transitional federal
government and their Ethiopian backers, who will have to decide whether
to dispatch troops in an attempt to retake the port.