Home | News    Monday 25 September 2006

Somali Islamists take port, boy killed in protests

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Sept 25, 2006 (KISMAYO, Somalia) — Islamist fighters opened fire in the Somali port city of Kismayo on Monday toward residents burning tires, throwing stones and chanting to protest against the Islamist takeover of their city hours before.

A 13-year-old boy was shot dead while protesting, while two other people were injured, witnesses said, amid sketchy reports from Somalia’s third largest city.

"We have been taken over by extremists, the Islamic courts have taken us by force, and now they are firing at us," protester Dahabo Dirie said amid screams and gunshots.

Riding on trucks mounted with machine guns, the Mogadishu-based Islamists poured into Kismayo overnight to extend their grip on south-central Somalia and effectively flank the powerless central government on three sides.

Other than the semi-autonomous northern enclave of Puntland and the self-declared independent enclave of Somaliland, the Islamists now control all Somalia’s key ports.

The government, based in the provincial town of Baidoa and with little military strength of its own, denounced the Kismayo takeover as a breach of an agreement both sides reached during peace talks in Sudan to halt further military expansion.

Residents of Kismayo, near Kenya’s border, said some arriving Islamist fighters stirred up an already tense mood by burning the Somali flag and raising an Islamic one.

That set off massive protests, after the town had previously been peaceful since the Islamists entered, they said.

"I witnessed the Somali flag being ripped apart and burned. This is unacceptable," said resident Mahad Abdullahi.

A Reuters witness saw thousands of men and women pouring on to the streets, shouting "We don’t want the Islamic Courts" and tossing stones at trucks used by Islamist fighters. Roads were blocked with stones and burning tires, she added.

PEACEKEEPER CONTROVERSY

Islamist spokesman Abdirahim Ibrahim Mudey said the movement, which took over Mogadishu from U.S.-backed warlords in June, had moved into Kismayo to prevent African troops using it as an entry point or base under a proposed peacekeeping force.

The African Union (AU) wants to send troops to Somalia in a move supported by the government but opposed by the Islamists and also denounced by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

"We heard Ugandan and Ethiopian troops were heading to Kismayo via the Kenyan-Somali border ... we will defend ourselves," Mudey told Reuters.

Before the protests, hundreds of residents had gathered at Kismayo’s Independence Square to hear speeches from the arriving Islamist leaders and chant "No AU troops!."

Kismayo is an important fishing, agricultural and livestock center, a relatively prosperous city in a war-shattered nation.

The Islamists’ advances since June have challenged the aspirations of the Western-backed interim government of President Abdullahi Yusuf, which aims to restore central rule for the first time since warlords ousted a dictator in 1991.

Adding to Monday’s tensions, the Islamists said their arch-enemy Ethiopia was planning an attack.

"This will not only affect peace in Somalia but in east Africa and the rest of the world," hard-line cleric Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siad "Inda’ade" said in Mogadishu, threatening to take the war inside Ethiopia.

(Reuters)

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