Somalia's foreign minister is appealing to the international community to help Somalia's weak transitional government capture Islamists trying to escape or enter Somalia by water. Cathy Majtenyi reports from VOA's east Africa bureau in Nairobi, the government troops are advancing near the southern port city of Kismayo.

Foreign Minister Esmael Mohamud Hurreh tells VOA he is asking the international community to closely monitor the waters in and around Kismayo to watch for Islamist fighters leaving or entering the country.

"We know that they will try to cross the sea," said Esmael Mohamud Hurreh. "There are vessels, dhows, moving into that area to pick them up, and we have requested the international community to watch out for our shores. That is why we have asked the international community to assist us, in terms of interdicting the jihadists, and also to deter them from entering into Somalia."

The request comes as government troops, backed by Ethiopian forces, advanced on Jilib, near Kismayo.

Officials and fighters of the Islamic Courts Union had fled to Kismayo during the past few days, after abandoning the capital, their former base.

Last week, Ethiopian-backed government troops had surrounded Mogadishu, after having defeated the Islamists in nearby Jowhar.

According to Foreign Minister Hurreh, heavy fighting in Jilib is going well for the government.

"We want them to surrender, to declare that they have changed their cause of thinking, that they can take over this country by force, and accept to talk and dialogue, or to suffer the consequences of armed conflict," he said.

Hurreh predicts that the fighting will last another two days in and around Kismayo.

VOA could not reach the Islamists for comment. Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed has vowed to continue fighting the Ethiopians and the country's interim government. The French new agency quotes Islamist commander Sheikh Mohamed Ibrahim Bilal as saying his forces will never surrender, and that they cannot accept any offer of negotiations, as long as Ethiopians are in Somalia.

The latest round of fighting began almost two weeks ago, after a deadline the Islamists set for Ethiopian troops to leave Somalia or face war.

Until recently, Ethiopian authorities have denied putting combat forces in Somalia, saying only that their soldiers were helping train Somali government troops.

The United States wants to see a formal ceasefire, and the deployment to Somalia as soon as possible of the proposed East African peacekeeping force endorsed by the U.N. Security Council earlier this month.

Earlier this year, the Islamic Courts Union seized control of the capital and other areas, before reaching a truce with the government. Negotiations between Somalia's transitional government and the Islamic Courts Union collapsed in Sudan on November 2.