Mogadishu - A warlord in southern Somalia's Jubaland region
has declared himself "president" of the region, leaders said on Thursday,
shortly after the election of another militia commander to the post.
With tensions already high, the move raised the risk of
clashes between rival factions in the southern port city of Kismayo, a former
stronghold of the al-Qaeada-linked Shabaab, where Kenyan troops in an African
Union force are now based.
The city was quiet on Thursday, but residents have reported
clan militia reinforcing their positions across Kismayo.
On Wednesday, former Islamist warlord Ahmed Madobe was
elected "president" of the volatile Jubaland region by a conference
of some 500 elders and local leaders.
Neither the title nor the region itself is recognised by the
weak central government in Mogadishu.
His supporters - including the powerful Ras Kamboni militia
- fired heavy machine guns into the sky to celebrate his appointment,
"They were firing guns late into the night...the
situation is calm now but the city is tense, there are fears of clashes between
militia," Kismayo resident Hassan Mohamud told AFP.
Madobe is also a key ally of Kenya, and his appointment
risks opening a rift between Nairobi and Mogadishu.
But shortly afterward, former Somali defence minister and
warlord Barre Hirale, who comes from a rival clan, declared himself the true
president after a separate conference.
"I was nominated president of Jubaland by the
elders...I call on the people to support my presidency to assist me in bringing
peace," Hirale told reporters.
"The conference where I was nominated was organised and
belonged to the people... while the other conference was organised and pushed
by Kenya," he added, calling on people to "to lay down their arms and
help rebuild the region."
Hirale, a veteran militia commander from the Marehan clan,
has in recent years been backed by Ethiopia to battle Shabaab insurgents.
Both elections are understood to be opposed by the central
government in the capital Mogadishu, which is keen to stamp its authority on
the lawless and war-ravaged nation, not to see further regional splits.
There was no immediate reaction to developments from