Tensions simmer in south Somali region

2013-05-16 12:19
Al-Shabaab. (AFP)

Al-Shabaab. (AFP)

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Mogadishu - A warlord in southern Somalia's Jubaland region has declared himself "president" of the region, leaders said on Thursday, shortly after the election of another militia commander to the post.

With tensions already high, the move raised the risk of clashes between rival factions in the southern port city of Kismayo, a former stronghold of the al-Qaeada-linked Shabaab, where Kenyan troops in an African Union force are now based.

The city was quiet on Thursday, but residents have reported clan militia reinforcing their positions across Kismayo.

On Wednesday, former Islamist warlord Ahmed Madobe was elected "president" of the volatile Jubaland region by a conference of some 500 elders and local leaders.

Neither the title nor the region itself is recognised by the weak central government in Mogadishu.

His supporters - including the powerful Ras Kamboni militia - fired heavy machine guns into the sky to celebrate his appointment, residents said.

"They were firing guns late into the night...the situation is calm now but the city is tense, there are fears of clashes between militia," Kismayo resident Hassan Mohamud told AFP.

Madobe is also a key ally of Kenya, and his appointment risks opening a rift between Nairobi and Mogadishu.

War-ravaged nation

But shortly afterward, former Somali defence minister and warlord Barre Hirale, who comes from a rival clan, declared himself the true president after a separate conference.

"I was nominated president of Jubaland by the elders...I call on the people to support my presidency to assist me in bringing peace," Hirale told reporters.

"The conference where I was nominated was organised and belonged to the people... while the other conference was organised and pushed by Kenya," he added, calling on people to "to lay down their arms and help rebuild the region."

Hirale, a veteran militia commander from the Marehan clan, has in recent years been backed by Ethiopia to battle Shabaab insurgents.

Both elections are understood to be opposed by the central government in the capital Mogadishu, which is keen to stamp its authority on the lawless and war-ravaged nation, not to see further regional splits.

There was no immediate reaction to developments from Mogadishu.

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