May 29, 2009 / 1:06 PM / 11 years ago

Warships block vessel from rebel-held Somali port

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Foreign warships blocked a cargo vessel from entering Somalia’s rebel-held Kismayu port on Friday in a new strategy to try and choke the militant insurgent group al Shabaab, the government said.

Ports and Sea Transport Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Habasade said the action was taken in line with resolutions by East African body IGAD and the African Union (AU) to try and stop supplies reaching the al Qaeda-linked movement.

“I’m confirming to you that the international warships prevented a commercial ship from docking in Kismayu,” he told Reuters. “We are warning Somali traders against chartering ships to the opposition groups’ strongholds, because they have sanctions imposed on them.”

There was no immediate confirmation from foreign navies. They have deployed in the area since the turn of the year to try and prevent piracy that has flourished in the busy Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean shipping lanes due to lawlessness onshore.

The ship had delivered goods to the capital Mogadishu before heading south to Kismayu, the minister said. Its nationality and details of its cargo were not known.

Al Shabaab did not immediately comment on the ship issue, but said earlier on Friday that it had imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Kismayu after a rare attack near one of its bases in the southern city it has held since mid-2008.

Two civilians were injured when a hand-grenade was hurled toward the base on Thursday night, locals said, in the latest violence in the Horn of Africa nation which has suffered 18 years of near-continuous civil conflict.

“We are interrogating the two injured civilians. We do not really know who hurled the hand grenade,” senior al Shabaab official Sheikh Ahmed Hassan told Reuters.

MOGADISHU DEATHS

Al Shabaab, which Western security services say is a proxy for al Qaeda, has been fighting the Somali government since early 2007 in a rebellion that has killed nearly 18,000 civilians and driven more than 1 million from their homes.

The conflict has worsened a dire humanitarian situation, enabled piracy to flourish offshore, and heightened tensions and security worries around the Horn of Africa.

Al Shabaab has imposed strict sharia (Islamic law) on Kismayu and other towns it controls in south Somalia. It often bans drinking, films, wedding parties and music, and punishes suspected government collaborators, sometimes by beheading.

Though witnesses say al Shabaab has foreigners in its ranks, the group insists it is fighting for Somalia’s sovereignty and against a government it portrays as Western-imposed.

In the worst fighting for months, government forces have been battling al Shabaab fighters in the capital Mogadishu, 300 miles north of Kismayu, this month, with scores killed, and tens of thousands of refugees streaming out of the city.

Government soldiers shot dead three suspected insurgents in west Mogadishu on Friday, in the latest clashes, locals said.

Neighboring Kenya houses nearly 300,000 Somali refugees. It has suffered cross-border clashes, watched house prices soar in Nairobi on what local analysts say is an injection of pirates’ ransom money, and is worried for all of East Africa.

“This is not good for investment in the region,” Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula said, pledging Nairobi’s support for Somali government efforts to counter al Shabaab.

(Additional reporting by Abdi Guled and Abdi Sheikh)

Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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