MOGADISHU Yemeni rebels have sent arms in the last few days to support Somalia's Islamist al Shabaab insurgents, the Somali defense minister said on Saturday.
Al Shabaab, which is fighting to impose strict Islamic rule on Somalia, has said it is ready to send reinforcements to Yemen should the U.S. carry out strikes on Islamist militants there.
"Yemeni rebels sent two boats loaded with military logistics, light weapons, Kalashnikovs and ammunition, and hand grenades -- which is fuelling the flames in a country already burning," Sheikh Yusuf Mohammad Siad told Reuters by phone.
Somalia has had no effective central government for 19 years. The West's efforts to install one have been undermined most recently by the insurgency led by al Shabaab, which Washington views as al Qaeda's proxy in the region.
Western security agencies say Somalia's appeal is growing as a safe haven for foreign jihadists using it to plot attacks in the region and beyond.
"I think their intention is a worldwide network that can wage global war, and cause chaos in the whole region," the minister said. He said the boats carrying weapons from Yemen had docked in the southern port of Kismayu, which is under al Shabaab's control, last week.
Ten people were killed on Saturday in fighting between al Shabaab and the pro-government Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca group around Dusamareb, 560 km (350 miles) north of Mogadishu.
The fighting was the first in the town since Ahlu Sunna, whose fighters are more moderate Sufi Muslims, ousted al Shabaab there in December 2008.
Residents said al Shabaab pounded the eastern side of the town with mortars in the early hours of the morning, and Ahlu Sunna responded with machine gun fire.
"Most of the residents fled into the jungle. This fighting will obviously spread to other central towns," community elder Osman Aden told Reuters. "I saw 10 dead people lying in the villages as I fled."
Residents say al Shabaab has been forcibly recruiting young men in readiness for an attack against the government and moderate Islamists in central Somalia.
An Ahlu Sunna spokesman, Sheikh Abdullahi Sheikh Abu Yusuf, told Reuters:
"Al Shabaab attacked us this morning but we killed many of them and took their weapons ... We drove them out of the town and we shall redouble our war on al Shabaab. We shall soon reach new towns from where these pseudo-Muslims attacked us."
His al Shabaab counterpart denied the claim.
"We have captured Dusamareb and killed many Sufis. We also took four battle wagons from them," Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, al Shabaab's spokesman, told Reuters by phone from Mogadishu.
Al Shabaab launched its insurgency at the start of 2007 to drive out Ethiopian troops propping up the Western-backed government in the Horn of Africa nation.
The Ethiopians left at the start of 2009, but fighting continued between the Islamists and President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed's troops, who control little more than a few streets of the battle-scarred capital.
Elman, a local human rights group, says at least 21,862 people have been killed and many more displaced since the start of the insurgency.
Separately, authorities in Europe said Somali pirates, who have made tens of millions of dollars from seizing ships for ransom, hijacked a British-flagged vehicle carrier off the Somali coast late on Friday.