Somali president visits key breakaway southern port

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Mogadishu (AFP) – Somalia’s president visited for the first time the southern port of Kismayo on Thursday, a former Islamist stronghold now controlled by a warlord long opposed to rule of central government, his spokesman said.

The move comes amid efforts to bolster support for central government from breakaway regions, and to combat a common threat of Al-Qaeda linked Shebab insurgents, who control large areas circling the port city.

Shebab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab boasted of firing dozens of artillery and mortar rounds at the “infidel leader” as the president landed, but officials dismissed that as lies.

Kismayo, patrolled by Kenyan and Sierra Leonean troops in the African Union force, is controlled by the Ras Kamboni militia of warlord Ahmed Madobe, who claims leadership over the southern semi-autonomous region of Jubaland in defiance of government in Mogadishu.

Abdirahman Omar Osman, spokesman for President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, gave no further details of the visit by the internationally-backed leader, but it signals a significant step forward in relations with the breakaway region.

However, he dismissed claims by the Shebab — who were forced from the port last year by invading Kenyan troops fighting alongside Madobe’s men — that they had attacked the president as he landed.

“There were no mortar attacks at Kismayo airport contrary to Al-Shebab claims,” Osman added.

Jubaland lies in the far south of Somalia, bordering both Kenya and Ethiopia, and control is split between multiple forces including clan militia, the Shebab and Kenyan and Ethiopian soldiers.

Shebab forces control their last major port at Barawe, some 250 kilometres northeast of Kismayo, which has long been eyed by AU forces as a strategic prize to take.

Taking Barawe would also link up AU forces currently split between Jubaland and the capital Mogadishu.