Islamists clash with southern Somali militia
KISMAYU, Somalia, Oct 16 (Reuters) - Troops loyal to powerful Somali Islamists clashed with rival militia fighters in a southern town, killing four and stoking fears of mounting violence in the Horn of Africa nation, residents said on Monday.
Two gunmen were killed on each side, they said, and two others wounded during the overnight battle in Jilib, an agricultural town about 110 km (70 miles) north of Kismayu port.
"Islamic courts troops and some local militias clashed late last night," local elder Madey Osman told Reuters by phone. "Although the fighting has ceased and calm has returned, the town is still tense."
Sheikh Mohamed Dahir, an Islamist official in Jilib, blamed local militias for raising tensions and destabilising the area.
"These are the thugs who used to operate checkpoints in the region," Dahir said. "They just opened fired at our troops. There is no way we will allow them to cause chaos."
The rise of the Islamists, who have seized most of southern Somalia since taking Mogadishu in June, has all but thwarted the interim government's attempt to reimpose central rule on a country in chaos since the 1991 ouster of a dictator.
Laying down strict sharia law, the Islamists have vowed holy war against giant neighbour Ethiopia, whose troops they accuse of invading Somalia to prop up the Western-backed government.
Addis Ababa denies the accusation, saying the Islamists are led by terrorists.
Residents in the Hiraan region of Somalia, which borders Ethiopia, said on Monday the Islamists had set up recruitment centres for Somalis ready to join the jihad against Ethiopia.
"They are going round the town encouraging residents to come forward and fight for the sake of Somalia and Islam," one resident of Baladwayne, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
"Hundreds have so far volunteered and will soon be trained."
Diplomats fear that if the standoff between the government and Islamists spirals into conflict, it could spark a major regional war in the Horn of Africa.
(Additional reporting by Guled Mohamed in Mogadishu)
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