Islamist factions on brink of war in Somali port
MOGADISHU (AFP) - The Islamist alliance that has ruled the key southern Somali port of Kismayo for a year was on the brink of collapse Wednesday, with two factions vowing to fight for supremacy.
The Al-Qaeda-inspired Shebab and the more political Hezb al-Islam group both claim control of Kismayo, whose port is a key source of revenue, since seizing the town from the transitional government troops in August 2008.
Hundreds of heavily armed fighters allied to Hezb al-Islam have this week deployed near Kismayo, located some 500 kilometres (300 miles) south of the capital Mogadishu.
"There is no longer a single group controlling Kismayo but we are planning to announce one soon," Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, the head of the armed group, told reporters Wednesday.
Regional Shebab spokesman Sheikh Hassan Yaqub Ali said their efforts to persuade their rivals that Kismayo belonged to both of them had fallen on deaf ears.
"We can no longer tolerate them. We are always in a position to defend our religion from anyone who tries to undermine it," Ali said.
After capturing Kismayo last year, the two sides agreed to share power, each governing for six months alternatively, but the deal foundered with Shebab's refusal to honour it.
Witnesses reported Wednesday that residents had begun fleeing the port town as the former allies moved closer to armed confrontation.
Local resident Mohamed Moalim Ibrahim said the fighters had taken positions "in trenches, some of them are on top of a tall building where they installed their heavy machine guns... Many residents have fled to nearby villages."
Senior Shebab official Osmail Haji Adow regretted that "brothers who were once allied to fight against the enemy of Allah are sharpening their swords today to wage war on each other."
"We call on both sides to show restraint," he said.
One resident who spoke to AFP by phone said an eruption of violence looked inevitable.
"This seems to be all about financial interests because the Shebab refused to share the resources with their allies," said Abdullahi Hassan. "We are only waiting for the start of the fighting. There is no hope of peace."
Kismayo has been relatively calm since the hardline Islamists seized it and many residents from war-riven Mogadishu have sought refuge there.
On May 7, the Shebab and Hezb al-Islam launched a blistering offensive against the internationally-backed administration of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in Mogadishu as well as southern and central regions.
The hardline groups have reduced the government's reach to just a few streets in the war-wracked capital, where it owes its survival to the African Union peacekeepers.
But the tensions in Kismayo may wreck their drive against Sharif's government and the African forces whom they have repeatedly attacked, accusing them of being an occupying force.
Source: AFP, Sept 30, 2009