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Kismayo on Edge as AU Forces Patrol City Streets

In this photo released by the African Union-UN Information Support Team, Kenyan soldiers with the African Union Mission in Somalia sit on top of an armored vehicle in Saa'moja, north-west of the port city of Kismayo, October 1, 2012.
Kenyan forces say they have extended their control over the Somali city of Kismayo, days after al-Shabab militants retreated from the town. A bomb blast targeting African Union troops underscores the threat of violence hanging over the city.

Kismayo residents say Kenyan forces entered into the city for the first time Tuesday, firing their guns into the air to disperse the crowds as they patrolled the streets of the city.

One witness said he saw Kenyan troops, who are part of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, going over the roads with mine detectors.

A Kismayo resident, who declined to give his name because of concern for his security, said African Union and Somali forces have surrounded the town. He says this morning at 10:00, Somali and Kenyan forces officially came into the city. Most of the roads leading in and out of the city are blocked, he said, and forces are firing in the air.

Bomb targets AU

Local sources reported the explosion heard in the city Tuesday was a homemade bomb targeting African Union forces. A post on an al-Shabab-linked Twitter account said the militants were responsible.

Abdullahi Olow, a Somali National Army commander in Kismayo, told VOA there were no injuries from the blast, and a suspect was arrested.

Kismayo had been al-Shabab's last major stronghold until the militants fled the city three days ago as Kenyan forces advanced from the land, air and sea.

The Kismayo resident said while the situation is mostly calm for the time being, citizens fear the military operation could bring more violence.

Keeping safe

He said most of the civilians are staying indoors and there are no people in the streets. Forces are carrying out operations in the area where explosion took place, he added. Some forces have been deployed in residential areas and he said people living in Kismayo are afraid.

Kenya’s military said its forces also have taken control of Kismayo’s strategically important seaport.

Al-Shabab had relied on the seaport for revenues and supplies to fuel its years-long insurgency against the Somali government. The group's withdrawal has raised hopes that the militant threat is receding, and Somali leaders can build a stable and effective central government.