MOGADISHU, Oct 1 (Reuters) - African Union and Somali government troops are in no rush to enter Kismayu, the southern stronghold abandoned by Islamist militants, a military spokesman said on Monday as anxiety over revenge attacks gripped many in the port city.
Monday, October 01, 2012
By Abdi Sheikh
Al Shabaab rebels fled Kismayu on Friday after a surprise assault by sea, air and ground forces, but Kenyan soldiers fighting under the banner of an AU peacekeeping mission have been cautious about pouring into the port city from its outskirts.
Mohamed Farah, a spokesman for Somali government forces in the southern Juba regions, said the rebels might have laid explosives in Kismayu and soldiers were being deployed to strategic locations step by step.
"We control the airport and seaport," Farah told Reuters.
"There is not much need to rush. We control the town. And every step in Kismayu is sandy. We anticipate mines have been planted," he said.
Al Shabaab has said that although it had retreated from Somalia's second biggest city, its fighters were poised to engage the allied troops once they entered the city centre, threatening to turn the streets into a "battlefield".
The rebel group, which counts foreign al Qaeda-trained fighters among its ranks, is seen as one of the biggest threats to stability in the Horn of Africa. It formally merged with al Qaeda in February.
Somalia descended into chaos after dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.
Al Shabaab, which for much of its five-year rebellion controlled swathes of the lawless Horn of Africa country, has turned to guerrilla tactics, harrying the weak government of newly-elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud with suicide bombings and assassinations.
Security forces in Kenya, the region's biggest economy, were on high alert on Monday.
Police said extra roadblocks had been set up on roads leading to neighbouring Somalia, while a military source said extra surveillance flights were being operated along the remote, porous frontier.
"Somalia has been an al Qaeda hideout. You've seen the impact of al Qaeda across the world and we have just destroyed their backyard," Kenya's deputy police spokesman Charles Owino told Reuters.
KISMAYU RESIDENTS' FEARS
Since it sent troops into Somalia a year ago, Kenya has been dogged by a succession of gun and grenade attacks, blamed by the government in Nairobi on al Shabaab and its sympathisers.
On Sunday, a child was killed in the Kenyan capital when an explosive was thrown into a Sunday school service and two police officers were shot dead hours later in the eastern town of Garissa.
Such low-level attacks have so far not hurt Kenya's financial markets.
However, a major strike of the kind threatened by al Shabaab on Kenyan government buildings or sites popular with Western expatriates and holidaymakers would risk dealing a body-blow to the tourism sector and damaging Kenya's reputation as a sound investment destination in a volatile region.
The militants proved their ability to launch a major strike beyond Somalia's frontiers when suicide bombers killed 79 people in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, in 2010.
In Kismayu, residents were divided over whether the arrival of AMISOM peacekeepers in the city would bring benefit.
There are concerns a prolonged power vacuum in Kismayu could give way to renewed clan violence as rival groups jockey for control of the lucrative port in a city where the rebels' strict application of Islamic law alienated a huge portion of the population.
"Kismayu looks calmer today. People are moving in the streets. The shops and markets are open. We hope security will improve with the presence of the troops," said resident Bare Nur.
Faiza Mohamed, a greengrocer, was more circumspect.
"We're not against the government, but Kismayu will become like Mogadishu," the mother-of-five said, referring to al Shabaab's campaign of suicide bombings and targeted killings that has swept the capital since the group withdrew from there 14 months ago.
"I am sure security will worsen if the troops come in," she said.