Somali rebels clash near Kenya

2010-02-18 19:06

Mogadishu - Somali rebels clashed in a town very close to the Kenyan border on Thursday in a resurgence of fighting between two formerly allied Islamist groups in the south of the Horn of Africa nation.

Residents of Dhobley said Hizb al-Islam attacked fighters from hardline Shebab rebels who have been occupying the strategic town on the main road from the lucrative Somali port of Kismayu to northern Kenya.

"The fighting started in our town early this morning, when hundreds of fighters loyal to Ahmed Madobe (Hizb al-Islam) entered the town from two directions," said resident Ibrahim Abdulkadir. "After hours of fierce fighting, the Shebab militia was forced out of the town." Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab and the more moderate Hizb al-Islam have often fought together against government forces in a bid to topple the Western-backed administration. But a rift emerged last year when they battled for control of Kismayu.

Ahmed Madobe told Reuters by telephone from Dhobley that his fighters had captured the town and would now press on towards the port, which they lost to the Shebab last October.

Humanitarian emergency

"One mujahid has died from our side and we have killed more than 11. You can see their bodies," he said. "We hope to reach Kismayu in the coming days."

Violence has killed at least 21 000 people in the failed Horn of Africa nation since the start of 2007 and driven another 1.5 million from their homes, helping trigger one of the world's worst humanitarian emergencies.

Western nations and neighbouring countries say the anarchic country serves as a safe haven for militants bent on launching attacks in east Africa and further afield. Hundreds of residents fled the fighting towards Kenya, where the army has have been beefing up security along the border to prevent any incursions from the Shebaab.

Further north along the border with Kenya, militiamen drove Shebab fighters from the area of Dif.

"Things are going well now and our militias entered the town. We are moving forward," Mahmed Amin Abdullah, a local politician told Reuters by phone.

Read more on:    shebab  |  somalia  |  east africa
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