By Sahra Abdi Ahmed
KISMAYU, Somalia, May 31 (Reuters) - Several hundred Somali soldiers briefly seized the southern port of Kismayu in a protest over unpaid salaries in the latest sign of the turmoil plaguing the Horn of Africa nation, residents said on Thursday.
Business was brought to a standstill as about 800 troops driving dozens of vehicles mounted with heavy weaponry took up positions across Somalia's third city on Tuesday, they said.
Clan elders persuaded the men to return to their barracks on Wednesday after promising the government would pay their wages.
"We have not been paid for the last six months," one soldier, Jama Hashi Hassan, told Reuters. "We took over the port in order to press the government to pay us our dues."
One Kismayu businessman said the situation remained tense and that the soldiers -- many of whom were former militiamen who signed up recently with the interim government -- had threatened to take their pay by force from the port's proceeds.
"Business has badly been affected by the brief incident," said the man, who asked to be identified only as Ali.
President Abdullahi Yusuf's interim government is struggling to impose central rule on an impoverished country in anarchy since warlords kicked out dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
Mohamed Bashir, one of the Kismayu elders, said the young administration must honour its commitments to avoid more strife.
"The troops heeded our call and left the port," he told Reuters. "It is up to the government to meet their demand now."
There was no immediate government comment.
Kismayu, a major port on the Indian Ocean near the border with Kenya, was an Islamist stronghold during their six month rule of most of southern Somalia last year.
Efforts to restore stability in the fractious nation have been hit by attacks blamed on Islamist guerrillas who have vowed to wage an "Iraq-style" insurgency. Since being chased out of the capital Mogadishu by the interim government and its Ethiopian allies in December, the rebels have struck government buildings, convoys and Ugandan peacekeepers patrolling for the African Union.
Five Ethiopian soldiers were wounded on Wednesday when a remote-controlled roadside bomb rocked their convoy in the central town of Baladwayne. The Ethiopians then opened fire with machine-guns, witnesses said, killing at least four civilians.
And in the latest attack targeting the authorities, a gunman sprayed bullets at a car carrying Kismayu police chief Ibrahim Khalif on Wednesday, prompting a fire-fight with his bodyguards.
"He fired 19 shots at me," Khalif, who was unhurt, told Reuters. "My car is riddled with bullets. I don't know why he shot at me. The man was later arrested by my troops."
In the semi-autonomous northeast region of Puntland, authorities said on Thursday that a group of Somali Islamists -- with 13 foreigners, possibly from Arab countries -- had landed in two boats then run to a mountain hideout.
"These men are remnants of the Islamic courts. They arrived from Ras Kamboni," Bari region provincial commissioner Muse Gelle Yusuf told Reuters, referring to a coastal village in south Somalia where militant Islamists had been hiding.
(Additional reporting by Abdiqani Hassan in Bossasso)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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