Kenya, Somalia in dispute over violent port city
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — The al-Qaida-linked militants who once controlled the southern port city of Kismayo are gone, but a fight for control of the city has broken out and at least 10 people have been killed in the recent violence.
Kismayo is home to a contingent of militiamen and warlords, and five clan leaders now have all declared themselves president including a leader who is backed by Kenya.
At the heart of the divide in Kismayo is Kenya's desire for a friendly buffer zone near its border with Somalia, one of the main reasons Kenya sent troops to Somalia to fight al-Shabab militants in late 2011.
Though not backed by the weak federal government in Mogadishu, Ahmed Madobe is the key power broker around Kismayo. Madobe, who enjoys the support of Kenya, is the leader of the Raskamboni brigade that fought alongside Kenyan forces who took Kismayo from al-Shabab.
Madobe formed a local administration without giving much of a role to the central Somali government and was named president of the body. Adding to the chaos, four other clan leaders also have declared themselves the president of the region, though none is supported by Mogadishu.
Violence between the clans has left at least 10 people dead in recent days, drawing the concern of the United Nations Security Council.
The Kismayo crisis "puts Kenya and Somalia on a collision course," said Abdi Aynte, the director of Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, a Mogadishu-based think tank. "Kenya has legitimate security concerns, but its attempt to mitigate those fears through a buffer zone is imprudent."
To an extent civil war already has restarted in Kismayo, Aynte said, and more violence is possible.
Fears of more warfare may have prompted the U.N. Security Council on Thursday to express concern at the deterioration of the security situation in Juba, the wider region that encompasses Kismayo.
The Security Council urged all parties in the region to refrain from action that threatens peace and to engage with the Mogadishu-based federal government, and it urged "neighboring countries" to help decrease the tension.
On Friday, Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shrirdon said the U.N. statement showed strong support for the reconciliation process that the government is championing.
But the central government has little power in Kismayo. Madobe's militia has prevented Mogadishu government officials from visiting the town, forcing the officials to spend long chunks of idle time at the airport before returning to Mogadishu empty-handed.
Speaking at the African Union summit in Ethiopia last month, Somalia's president accused Kenyan forces in Kismayo of mistreating a committee he sent to the town to initiate negotiations. And Dahir Amin Jesow, a member of Somalia's parliament, accuses Kenyan forces of backing the Raskamboni brigade against its rivals.
"Kenyan troops were in no way neutral. They sided with Raskamboni against others, including government forces, which is very unfortunate," said Dahir Amin Jesow, a member of parliament.
Col. Cyrus Oguna, Kenya's military spokesman, called the allegations unfounded. He said Kenyan forces are part of the African Union mission in Somalia, and are not taking sides. "Kenyan Defense Forces have been very neutral," he said.
While Kenya seeks a security buffer, Madobe and others appear to be interested in the economic engine of Kismayo. Its port generates large and reliable income, and has been the export point of Somali-made charcoal made illegal by the U.N.
Associated Press reporter Tom Odula in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.