Islamic militants control key Somali port

70 killed, 170 wounded in fighting during past week; Islamic courts movement says it wrested control of country's third largest city.

somalia fighter 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
somalia fighter 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Islamic militants said Saturday they had seized control of Somalia's third largest city after three days of fighting that left about 70 people dead and saw thousands flee Kismayo. The Islamic courts movement, which controlled the capital, Mogadishu, and much of the south for six months in 2006, said it wrested control of the southern port city of Kismayo from clan militias. About 70 people were killed during the fighting which started Wednesday and 170 were wounded, said Dr. Ali Hassan of Kismayo Hospital. "Medicine is scarce and there is only one doctor and a few nurses. That shows how we are unable to cope," said Hassan. Later Saturday, the International Committee of the Red Cross delivered by plane two tons of medical supplies to Kismayo Hospital, said Nicole Engelbrecht, a spokeswoman for the agency. Engelbrecht said there also was fighting in Afmadow, about 110 kilometers (70 miles) northwest of Kismayo, during which 135 people have been wounded. She said the agency did not have details of fatalities. Somalia has been at war since 1991, when clan-based militias ousted a socialist dictator and then fought for power among themselves. The conflict is complicated by clan loyalties and the involvement of archenemies Eritrea and Ethiopia, who both back opposite sides in the fighting. The last UN peacekeeping force in Somalia included American troops who arrived in 1992 and tried to arrest warlords and create a government. That experiment in nation-building ended in October 1993, when fighters shot down a US Army Black Hawk helicopter during a battle that killed 18 American soldiers. Since then, Ethiopian troops have helped Somalia's shaky transitional government push the Islamists from power in Mogadishu and much of the south, but failed to establish security or improve living standards. The Islamic courts movement launched an insurgency in the impoverished country nearly two years ago, but Kismayo would be the biggest city seized since early 2007. Spokesman Sheik Ibrahim Shukri said its forces moved into Kismayo at the request of its residents and that the city "will remain under Islamic control." Government officials declined to comment on the claim. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the U.N. envoy for Somalia, said in a statement Saturday that he deplored the recent killings and displacement of people in Kismayo. He said the fighting was over the control of the port's earnings. Ali Abdullahi Egal of Fanole Human Rights Group, a Kismayo-based organization, said that thousands of residents have fled the city, but he did not have exact figures. Witnesses said Islamist fighters were patrolling the city Saturday allowing people to venture from their homes after some of the worst fighting in the city for months. Some residents doubted whether the fighting was over. "Now the town is calm, but we are still skeptical about the situation," said Fadumo Nuradin, a resident. Somalia has not had an effective government in 17 years, and thousands of Somalis have been killed during the insurgency. The Islamists are known to have bases in parts of southern Somalia. Col. Abdullahi Hassan Garweyne, a retired military officer, said it will be difficult for Somali soldiers and their Ethiopian allies to counterattack because of the threat of ambush in difficult terrain between their base in Mogadishu and Kismayo, 255 miles (410 kilometers) away. "The possibility of the defeated militia or any other troops challenging the Islamic militia, who are now in control (of Kismayo) is not simple or realistic," said Garweyne.