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In this Aug 31, 2012 file photo, a Kenyan Paramilitary soldiers patrol after they cleared an area following riots in previous days. — Photo by AP

MOGADISHU: The Kenyan army said Friday that it had entered the southern Somali port city of Kismayo, the last stronghold of the Al Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents.

The rebels and city residents however said the troops were still on the outskirts of the city that the army has been targetting for days.

“It was a joint operation both on air and ground, we finally entered Kismayo at 2:00 am (2300 GMT Thursday),” said Kenyan army spokesman Cyrus Oguna.

“We can not give casualty figures at the moment, the damage has not been assessed, but I can tell you our forces are already in Kismayo,” Oguna told AFP.

A Shebab commander in Kismayo however denied that soldiers had entered the city.

“The enemy using military boats has deployed hundreds of soldiers on the coast late last night and the mujahideen fighters are engaging in heavy fighting with them now,” said Sheik Mohamed Abu Fatuma.

“They are not very close to the city because the coast where they are now is around nine kilometres (six miles) from downtown,” he said.

And several Kismayo residents also said the Kenyan forces were still on the beach, where they came ashore from two ships around five kilometres from the city centre.

“The city itself is still under control of the Shebab. Radio Andalus is operating and calling on people to join the jihad and overthrow the invaders,” one of the residents Abdulahi Yakub told AFP.

Kismayo is the last major bastion of the Shebab, who have lost most of their other strongholds to the 17,000-strong African Union force – of which Kenya is a part – as well as allied Ethiopian forces.

Kenyan forces have been targetting the port for days and on Tuesday fighter jets bombarded the city's airport.

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