MOGADISHU: Fighters loyal to Somali warlord Ahmed Madobe strengthened control of the key southern port of Kismayo, residents said Monday, after days of clashes between rival militia forces for control of the city.
Heavy fighting broke out Friday when the Ras Kamboni militia of Madobe -- recently self-appointed "president" of the southern Jubaland region -- battled against forces loyal to Iftin Hassan Basto, another leader claiming to be president.
"The situation is quiet now and most parts of the town are controlled Madobe's men," said resident Abdulahi Mire, adding that rival forces had been forced outside town, but "are not far away".
Several rival factions claim ownership of Kismayo, a former stronghold of the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab, where Kenyan troops in an African Union force are now based.
Kenyan troops, who invaded Somalia in 2011, back Madobe's control of the strategic and economic hub, but neither the title of "president" nor the region of Jubaland is recognised by the weak central government in Mogadishu.
"Businesses is slowly returning to normal, we can't hear gunfire today... we hope the situation stays calm like this," said Ahmed Moyale, another resident.
Jubaland lies in the far south of Somalia and borders both Kenya and Ethiopia, and control is split between multiple forces including clan militia, the Shebab and Kenyan and Ethiopian soldiers.
Jubaland joins other semi-autonomous regions of the fractured Horn of Africa nation, including Puntland in the northeast -- which wants autonomy within a federation of states -- and Somaliland in the northwest, which fiercely defends its self-declared independence.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who holds little sway in the port city, said all sides should end the fighting.
"The time for fighting is over," he said in a statement. "We must unite and seek to resolve our differences peacefully, we must unite for the fight against Al-Shebab."
The Kenyan and Somali presidents met last week, discussing among other issues Nairobi's role in Jubaland, which has a lucrative charcoal industry, fertile farmland and potential offshore oil and gas deposits.
Kenya views the region as a key buffer zone to protect is borders, but in Jubaland, it has ended up backing a warlord opposing the central government it is mandated -- and funded by the UN and European Union -- to support.