18 May 2008

Somalia: Somali Rebels Seize Two More Towns

Islamist rebels in Somalia seized control of two more towns in the central and southern parts of the country, sources said.

In Somalia's central Mudug region, the town of Harardhere fell to the control of Islamist rebels Sunday morning.

Locals said the rebels were driving unarmed vehicles, but each fighter carried a rifle and other weaponry.

A rebel commander told Harardhere residents that the Islamists would not allow illegal militiamen to set up extortion roadblocks in or around the town.

The commander, who did not identify himself, told locals that the Islamists would fight against piracy in the region. The town of Harardhere lies along Somalia's Indian Ocean coast and has been renowned in recent years as a hub for pirate activities.

Tension in Kismayo

Heavily-armed guerrillas entered the town of Kamsuma early Saturday morning, hours after clan militias withdrew towards the southern port of Kismayo, locals reported.

Kamsuma is located approximately 90km north of Kismayo, the country's third-largest city. Kismayo has been governed by clan militias since June 2007, when Somali government troops divided along clan loyalties and dueled for control of the strategic port town.

Two days earlier, Islamist gunmen seized control of the town of Jilib, which is part of Middle Jubba region.

Militias loyal to the ruling clan in Kismayo were last reported to be in Jilib and Kamsuma towns, although the militia withdrew towards their home base in Kismayo as the Islamists built up forces in the region.

An unidentified woman in Kamsuma told Garowe Online that locals had "no fear...since they [Islamists] did not cause any problems."

In Kismayo, military tensions were high as clan militias were pulled out of their bases to counter any advance on the port town by the Islamists.

Military sources said clan militias had set up defensive positions approximately 10km north of Kismayo, where the militias were testing weapons.

Yasin Nur Gas, a Kismayo-based clan elder, told local media that clan militias will attack the Islamists in Kamsuma if they do not withdraw peacefully.

Mr. Gas indicated that the Islamist fighters seized control of two towns previously administered by the Kismayo-based clan militia, but strongly stated that the clan militia "will not negotiate" with the Islamists.

Kismayo rulers have pledged questionable allegiance to Somalia's UN-recognized government, which is busy battling Islamist rebels in Mogadishu.

Critics accuse the ruling clan in Kismayo of being anti-government and of continuing to reignite the destructive clan wars from the 1990s.

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