World Bulletin/News Desk
Somalia's al Shabaab withdrew from their last major bastion of Kismayu overnight, the group and residents said, a day after Kenyan and Somali government forces attacked the southern port.
The loss of Kismayu will deal a major blow to the movement, weakening morale and depriving it of revenue, but is unlikely to mark the end of its five-year rebellion.
The group that once controlled large swathes of the lawless Horn of Africa country, have been turning to guerrilla-style tactics, harrying the country's weak government with suicide bombings and assassinations.
"We moved out our fighters ... from Kismayu at midnight," al Shabaab spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, told Reuters on Saturday.
Rage threatened to strike back. "The enemies have not yet entered the town. Let them enter Kismayu which will soon turn into a battlefield," he said.
Locals confirmed the militants had pulled out under the cover of darkness but said the Kenyan troops, fighting under an African Union peacekeeping force's banner, and Somali soldiers were still camped on the city's outskirts.
There were reports of looting in some areas of the city.
"Al Shabaab has not perished, so the worry is what next," said local elder Ali Hussein.
Residents said the fighters who had abandoned Kismayu had moved to the jungles that lie between Kismayu and Afmadow as well as to other towns north of the port city like Jamame and Kabsuma.
Kenyan military spokesman Col. Cyrus Oguna said his force was still trying to check whether al Shabaab had withdrawn, and would move into the city if the rebels did not put up resistance.
Al Shabaab has pulled out of a number of urban areas including the capital, Mogadishu, in recent months under pressure from advancing African Union forces. But their continuing guerrilla attacks still pose a big challenge for newly-elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
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Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades said Monday he hopes to clinch a reunification deal laying out a new security blueprint for the divided island during a crunch summit in Switzerland this week. Anastasiades will attend United Nations-backed talks at the Alpine Crans-Montana ski resort Wednesday with "complete determination and goodwill... to achieve a desired solution", he said in a statement. He said he hopes to "abolish the anachronistic system of guarantees and intervention rights", with a deal providing for the withdrawal of the Turkish army. The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece. Turkey maintains around 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus. The so-called guarantor powers of Turkey, Britain and Greece retain the right to intervene militarily on the island. Greek and Turkish Cypriots are at odds over a new security blueprint, but their leaders are under pressure to reach an elusive peace deal. "I am going to Switzerland to participate in the Cyprus conference, with the sole aim and intent of solving the Cyprus problem," Anastasiades said. Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci is also set to attend the summit, which is expected to last at least 10 days. Greece, Turkey and Britain will send envoys along with an observer from the European Union. UN-led talks on the island hit a wall in late May after the sides failed to agree terms to advance toward a final summit. Unlocking the security question would allow Anastasiades and Akinci to make unprecedented concessions on core issues. But they have major differences on what a new security blueprint should look like. Anastasiades's internationally recognised government, backed by Athens, seeks an agreement to abolish intervention rights, with Turkish troops withdrawing from the island on a specific timeline. Turkish Cypriots and Ankara argue for some form of intervention rights and a reduced number of troops remaining in the north. Turkish Cypriots want the conference to focus on broader issues of power-sharing, property rights and territory for the creation of a new federation. Much of the progress to date has been based on strong personal rapport between Anastasiades and Akinci, leader of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. But that goodwill has appeared frayed in the build-up to their meeting in Switzerland. The Greek Cypriot presidential election next February has also complicated the landscape, as has the government's search for offshore oil and gas, which Ankara argues should be suspended until the negotiations have reached an outcome.
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