Monday, January 01, 2007

Somalia Islamists flee last stronghold.

Africa: Ethiopian force routed them, no one knows where they went or how they can escape with Kenya to the south and supposedly US forces at sea.

KISMAYU, Somalia - Somali Islamists fled overnight from their final stronghold around the southern port town of Kismayu in the face of an advancing force of Ethiopian and government soldiers, residents said on Monday. "The Islamic courts left Kismayu last night. They left (their front line at) Jilib as well," a Kismayu resident told Reuters. "Nobody knows where they went. There's a lot of confusion." "Fighting stopped at around 10 p.m. (1900 GMT)," a resident of nearby Jilib said. "Then there was big silence. Then the Islamic Courts just left." The besieged Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC) had rallied several thousand fighters at Jilib, just north of Kismayu on the shores of the Indian Ocean, after a retreat south 300 km (190 miles) from the capital Mogadishu. Somali government forces and their Ethiopian allies had rained down mortars and rockets on the Islamist fighters dug in near Kismayu on Sunday to start a battle against the Islamists.
The Islamists have built trenches with bulldozers and have more than 60 "technicals" -- pickups mounted with heavy weapons -- supporting some 3,000 fighters, witnesses say. Kenya has reinforced its northern border and U.S. forces are also said to be in the region, including the sea, to prevent foreign militants aligned with the Islamists from escaping. Ethiopia says it has 4,000 troops in Somalia, though many believe that number could be far higher. Somalia's government has not given troop numbers, but is thought by experts to have several thousand.

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