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Page last updated at 08:30 GMT, Friday, 2 October 2009 09:30 UK

Somali port city buries the dead

Islamist fighters
People fear an Islamist split could bring more bloodshed

Residents of the Somali port of Kismayo are burying the dead and tending to the injured after a day of fierce clashes between rival Islamist groups.

Al-Shabab has gained control of the city and the Hizbul-Islam fighters have withdrawn to villages to the west.

A BBC correspondent says details are still sketchy but at least 20 people died and 70 people were wounded.

Some fear the clashes could spread, as the two groups' fighters are based close to each other across the country.

The Islamist pair have been national allies against the weak, UN-backed government.

Most towns and villages in southern and central Somalia are jointly administered by them.

A Hizbul-Islam official warned on Wednesday that if fighting started it would spread across the country, but correspondents say other Islamist leaders may not have the stomach for all-out war.

'Remain calm'

The BBC's Mohammed Olad Hassan in the capital Mogadishu says al-Shabab troops are patrolling Kismayo's town centre.

map showing areas under Islamist control
Al-Shabab
- Alleged to have links with al-Qaeda
- Has foreign fighters in its ranks
- Well organised militarily and logistically
Hizbul-Islam
- Led by Hassan Dahir Aweys
- Aweys led al-Itihad al-Islamiya, put on US terror list in 2001
- Home-grown Islamist movement

Residents told him the militiamen are shouting from their vehicles that the fighting is over and urging people to remain calm.

Those trapped in their homes during the fierce street clashes are venturing out in search of food.

The tension escalated last week in Kismayo when al-Shabab named a new administration which excluded Hizbul-Islam.

Analysts say an Islamist split could be a turning point for the embattled government.

At the moment it controls only small areas of the capital, with the help of African Union peacekeeping troops.

President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, was chosen in January after UN-brokered peace talks.

He has vowed to implement Sharia law but al-Shabab, which is accused of links to al-Qaeda, regards him as a Western puppet.

The country has been wracked by conflict since 1991, when it last had an effective national government.

Some three million people - half the population - need food aid, while hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country.



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