Civilians flee fighting in Kismayo

Heavy fighting between two Islamic groups in Somalia’s port city of Kismayo erupted yesterday, with dozens killed and hundreds of family’s displaced, local sources told IRIN.
“The fighting started at around 7am local time, with exchanges of heavy weapons fire by the two sides,” Abdulkadir Ali, a resident, said.
Tension had been building between Al-Shabaab and Hisbul-Islam over who should administer the city. It boiled over following a decision by Al-Shabaab to ignore an earlier agreement that control of the city would rotate between them.

Ali said the fighting was initially concentrated in the north and north eastern neighbourhoods but was spreading across the city. Areas in the west of the city, such as Alanley and Via Afmadow, were now battle zones.
“Hundred of families, including previously displaced people, are fleeing as we speak,” Ali said.

Mahamud Abaysane, a displaced person, told IRIN many residents had left the city on 30 September. “They [Al-Shabaab] were on the radio telling people to leave and go to safer areas. Thousands heeded that message and left,” Abaysane said.

He said most were fleeing north of Kismayo as far as Jamame (80km) and Jilib (120km). Others were moving from one neighbourhood to the next “hoping to find a safer place”.

Abaysane, who escaped fighting in Mogadishu, said people like him were being displaced for the third or fourth time. “We keep running but then it [the fighting] catches up with us.”

A hospital source, who requested anonymity, told IRIN that so far they were receiving civilians only. “The two sides are taking their injured to their own clinics.”

He said at least 30 injured civilians had been admitted to the hospital but many more could not make it because of the fighting.

He said the hospital was getting reports of high casualties on both sides. “We will only know the real casualty figures after the fighting stops,” he added.

Ali said: “I saw a truck being loaded with the dead and the injured. Both sides are using snipers; they are using tall buildings and shooting at anything that moves.”

He said many people like him, who had not left the city, were stuck in their homes.
“We are literally prisoners in our homes. You open the gate and they shoot you.”

Kismayo is 500km south of the capital, Mogadishu, and has been suffering from persistent insecurity, changing hands following fighting on numerous occasions.
“We have been expecting this [fighting] for the last few days but you always hope it will not come,” Abaysane said.

Fighting was reported to have died down later in the day, after Hisbul-Islam forces were pushed back.
“It seems that Al-Shabaab has the upper hand. They are now in control of most of the city,” said a business source.

Pic: al- Shabaab