Scores killed in Somalia fighting
Armed opposition group is reported to have taken control of the port city of Kismayu.
Last Modified: 23 Aug 2008 07:43 GMT
Large numbers of civilians have been killed in the conflict [AFP]

The death toll in southern Somalia has risen to 70 with scores more wounded after three days of fighting in which an armed opposition group is reported to have taken control of the southern port of Kismayu.

At least 13 people were killed in clashes in Kismayu on Friday between a local clan militia and al-Shabab, a group that broke away from the powerful Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in 2007.

It is the bloodiest fighting in the country for several months.

Kismayu is the country's biggest port, 500km south of the capital, Mogadishu, and gives al-Shabab a strategic advantage.

Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow reported that bodies remained on the streets where the fighting had been heaviest.

"They are said to still be in fighting spirit and they could be waging more fighting in the hours to come or even tomorrow morning," Adow reported on Friday.

A clan leader denied that al-Shabab had successfully taken the port, but that his troops had rather made a tactical withdrawal.

Side by side

Al-Shabab, fighting as part of the Islamic Courts Union, was driven out of Kismayu in early 2007 after Ethiopian forces rolled into Somalia to back the interim government in the fight to take control of much of central and southern Somalia.

"This is the first time in almost two years that Somalia's Islamic Court Union and al-Shabab are fighting side by side," Adow said.

"They also feel al-Shabab are fighting the same enemy despite the different ideologies they have," Adow said.

Al-Shabab was the military wing of the Islamic Courts Union and credited with winning military victories for the union, particularly in Mogadishu.

However, the group split from the union. It regards the ICU as more secular and willing to talk to the interim government. Al-Shabab has taken the stance that it will not negotiate with the interim government until Ethiopian troops are out of the country.

Worsening violence

"The leadership of Kismayu has changed hands nearly 30 times since the civil war in Somalia," Adow reported.

"The city has been fought over mainly because of its strategic location.

"It is one of the biggest ports in Somalia and is known as a bread basket for the country because of its agriculture."

Sahra Haji Ahmed, a resident, said al-Shabab forces were in the city centre and the sound of gunshots could be heard coming from only one area of the city.

At least 6,000 civilians have died in Somalia in the past year alone.

Somalia has lacked an effective government since Siad Barre, Somalia's former president, was ousted.

Barre's removal touched off a deadly power struggle that has defied more than 14 attempts to stabilise the country of about 10 million people.

Al Jazeera and egencies
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