Somalilandsun — At least eight people have been killed in fighting between rival Somali warlords battling for control of the southern port city of Kismayo, witnesses said Saturday.
Gunmen from the Ras Kamboni militia of former Islamist warlord Ahmed Madobe — recently self-appointed “president” of the southern Jubaland region — battled against forces loyal to Iftin Hassan Basto, another leader claiming to be president.
Fighting broke out Friday evening, paused overnight, but resumed on Saturday.
“Fighting started when soldiers from Ras Kamboni attacked and tried to arrest me,” Basto told reporters. “But my men fought back and defended me.”
Several rival factions claim ownership of Kismayo, a former stronghold of the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab, where Kenyan troops in an African Union force are now based.
Kenyan troops, who invaded Somalia in 2011, back Madobe’s control of the strategic and economic hub, but neither the title of “president” nor the region of Jubaland is recognised by the weak central government in Mogadishu.
Witnesses said eight people were killed in the clashes, while several wounded people were seen being taken to hospital.
“I saw eight dead, three of them civilians, but the toll could be higher as many were wounded,” said Mohamed Farey, a witness.
“Battles have continued… we can hear heavy fire.”
Another resident, Jama Bile, said that three of his neighbours had been killed, and two others wounded.
“It’s chaotic here… people are frightened,” Bile told AFP.
Jubaland lies in the far south of Somalia and borders both Kenya and Ethiopia, and control is split between multiple forces including clan militia, the Shebab, Kenyan and Ethiopian soldiers.
Jubaland joins other semi-autonomous regions of the fractured Horn of Africa nation, including Puntland in the northeast — which wants autonomy within a federation of states — and Somaliland in the northwest, which fiercely defends its self-declared independence.
Ras Kamboni spokesman Abdinasir Serar insisted his troops were in full control of Kismayo.
“We will end the fighting soon, after we arrest those who were preparing for attacks,” Serar said.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who holds little sway in the port city, said all sides should end the fighting.
“We call on both parties to practise restraint,” he said in a statement.
Kenya’s and Somalia’s presidents met this week, discussing among other issues Nairobi’s role in Jubaland, which has a lucrative charcoal industry, fertile farmland as well as potential off-shore oil and gas deposits.
Kenya views the region as a key buffer zone to protect is borders, but in Jubaland, has ended up backing a warlord opposing the central government it is mandated — and funded by the UN and European Union — to support.