Somali Port at Kismayo Falls to Forces Against US Intervention
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The last port in southern Somalia outside the control of the Islamic Courts (UIC) movement has fallen to the militants without a shot being fired.
Defence Minister Barre Hiraale and hundreds of his militia withdrew in 40 lorries as the Islamists approached.
UIC leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed told the BBC Somali service that he had men both inside and around Kismayo.
Thousands of people are reported to have fled the city in recent days but others are celebrating on the streets.
Kismayo journalist Nasteh Dahir told the BBC's Network Africa programme that thousands of people had gathered in the town, chanting "God is great" to welcome the UIC fighters.
He said they had taken control of the whole city - the airport, the sea port and the building where Kismayo's former ruler, Mr Hiraale, had been based.
Witnesses told AFP news agency they had seen more than 600 Islamist gunmen on about 50 "battlewagons" - machine-gun mounted pick-ups also known as "technicals" - heading toward Kismayo on Sunday
The UIC had said it would occupy Kismayo to stop a foreign peacekeeping force using it as a bridgehead.
Earlier this month, the African Union agreed to a request by Somalia's transitional government, which controls only a small part of the country, to send in a regional peacekeeping force.
The UIC has steadily increased its hold on Somalia since its fighters took control of the capital, Mogadishu, in June, taking control of hundreds of square kilometres of territory while hardly firing a shot.
The country's transitional government is confined to a single town, Baidoa, and its president was the victim of a recent assassination attempt.
However, it remains recognised internationally as the sovereign authority of Somalia, which has not had an effective national government for 15 years.
The local militia in Kismayo was led by Mr Hiraale of the Juba Valley Alliance.
Government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying any attack on Kismayo would breach a ceasefire deal between the administration and the Islamists agreed during recent talks in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.
"We're requesting that the international community pressurise the UIC to stop attacking," he said. The talks were due to resume later this month.
BBC Africa analyst David Bamford says the UIC insists it is a force for unity and stability in Somalia after years of division under the warlords.
But he adds that in recent weeks, its case has been severely tested as Islamist militants within their ranks have closed down cinemas and prevented Somali women working for non-governmental organisations.
The killings of a Western journalist and an elderly Italian nun have also raised concern.
Your comments about the fall of Kismayo:
I spoke my father in Kismayo, he told me UIC came this morning and everybody happy. Since 1991 we have been living fearful and panic because of warlords and tribalism. Now anxiety has gone and everybody enjoying. He said we are expecting law and order, and unity and prosperity like Mogadisho.
I have been talking to friends and they told me not many people left Kismayo for fear. In fact many people are welcoming them so that law and order can restored.
abdirashid, Rosemount, USA
My name is Mohamed and I live in Kismayo, Somalia. I am very happy that the UIC are coming because they will bring us freedom and security which Allah gives us in great amounts. Everyone is celebrating in Kismayo now about the great news. We are tired of them warlords who were controlling Somalia in falsehood but now here is the UIC bringing freedom.
My cousin and his family lived in Kismayo for many years. He called me by phone yesterday because everyone was leaving the city in fear of the UIC warlords. The UIC control Mogadishu by force and by terror not by freedom. He said people just want freedom not extremism and fearful life and wish for international help. Most of my friends in Kismayo have already left for Kenya or Baidoa. I was advising my cousin to come to Puntland as soon as possible but it was too late for them. He could not make decision faster, he is paying for it.
Mahdi, Puntland, Somalia
I live in Kismayo, there has been panic that there will be a war in the town, but fortunately there has not been a war, and all people are excited that the UIC are coming and bringing law and order after long time of rule by the different warlords
Abdi Dahir, Kismayo, Somalia
The Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) are by the people of Somalia and for the people, they enjoy most of the Somali people's support, after years of warlordism, divisionism, and greedy thugs. UIC army and its leaders are working voluntarily day and night to return the dignity of all Somali people. They are indeed a uniting force since, we, Somalis, are tired of tribalism which is rooted in ignorance and intolerance towards your Somali brothers and sisters
Hassan, Kismayo, Somalia
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Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/09/25 08:33:50 GMT
'Deaths' in protests at Somali port
Monday 25 September 2006 11:04 AM GMT
Kismayo is about 150km east of Somalia's border with Kenya.
At least two people have been killed after Islamist fighters opened fire on crowds protesting against the takeover of the Somali port city of Kismayo by the Islamic Courts Union.
Islamist commanders have acknowledged firing over demonstrators in the town, but denied that anyone had died or been injured.
The protest erupted just hours after the Islamists seized Kismayo late on Sunday from the Juba Valley Alliance, a government-allied militia, in a new setback for Somalia's weak administration.
Witnesses said Islamist gunmen shot at protesters outside the militia's former offices during protests over the removal of the Somali flag.
"Two people were killed and three others were wounded," said Kismayo resident Ahmed Sahal, who said the unrest began after the Islamists were given an initially wary, but largely friendly, welcome to the town.
He said the protesters had been complaining about the replacement of the Somali national flag with an Islamist banner, inscribed in Arabic with the phrase "There is but one god and Mohammed is his prophet".
Leyla Ahmed, another Kismayo resident, said shooting appeared to have started start when a crowd outside the JVA office became angry that the old flag was taken down.
"Some of the demonstrators were armed and they got violent when they saw the flag removed from the headquarters," she told the AFP news agency. "The situation is very tense and people cannot move."
Sheikh Hassan Yakub, the commander of the Islamist forces in Kismayo, denied that anyone had been killed or wounded in the incident he described as "self defence" that began when stones were thrown at his fighters.
"I want to tell you that no one was killed, this is a lie, an absolute lie," he told AFP. "This is a wishful thinking by those who want to see Somalia bleeding all the time."
In Mogadishu, a senior official with the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS) also denied the witness accounts of deaths and injuries.
Islamist forces rolled into Kismayo, about 500km south of Mogadishu, without firing a shot late on Sunday after the JVA leader Barre Shire Hirale, Somalia’s defence minister, fled.
JVA officials said their retreat to an area about 40km southwest of the town had been a "tactical withdrawal" intended to avoid needless bloodshed and pledged to recapture the port.
But after their departure, hundreds of turbaned, heavily-armed fighters on "battlewagons," machine-gun mounted pick-ups, took up positions in and around Kismayo and pledged to impose Sharia law in the town, witnesses said.
The retreat of JVA gives the Islamists, who already control the capital and much of southern Somalia, a new and strategic position from which they say they will block the deployment of foreign peacekeepers proposed to aid the government.
Sheikh Muktah Robow, SICS deputy security chief, speaking to AFP, said: "The main objective is to close down the border with Kenya in order to stop the deployment of foreign troops."
Kismayo is about 150km east of Somalia's border with Kenya.
In the temporary government seat of Baidoa, officials said they were deeply concerned about the situation in Kismayo and that the Islamist's attempt to take the town was "negative."
"Their move is unpopular in Kismayo and generally it is a negative move for peace and reconciliation," Abdurahman Dinari, government spokesman, told AFP.
The fall of Kismayo is a severe blow to the government and its hopes for the deployment of a nearly 8,000-strong regional east African peacekeeping force.
Despite fierce Islamist opposition, the seven-member Inter-Govermental Authority on Development (IGAD) has approved African Union-endorsed plans to send troops to salvage the government it helped to create in 2004.
But it faces numerous hurdles, not the least of which are Islamist intent to fight the force, a lack of money to pay for the mission and logistical problems now including no port in which to land the troops.
The internationally-backed but largely powerless administration is the latest in more than a dozen attempts to restore stability to Somalia, which was plunged into anarchy after Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled from power in 1991.
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