Somalia's charcoal exports, which have fuelled Islamist insurgents, continue in defiance of a UN ban, including out of regions controlled by African Union forces, residents and officials said Tuesday.
Residents in the southern port city of Kismayo, which local Somali militia and Kenyan troops with the AU force wrested from the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab in September, said boats have been shipping out charcoal.
"Charcoal is being exported now from the port of Kismayo... but there are also other natural ports in the region where the business is going on," said Hassan Mohamed Yusuf, a local businessman.
Charcoal exports had reportedly decreased after the Shebab were forced out of Kismayo but had never come to a complete halt.
"Boats are still coming and thousands of sacks of charcoal are still being exported from Kismayo port," said Nuradin Mohamed, a resident who lives near the port.
The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) issued a statement saying it "regrets" reports of the charcoal export out of war-ravaged Somalia, in contravention of an international embargo.
"AMISOM regrets reports that charcoal is being exported out of Somalia in violation of United Nations Security Council resolution 2036 and Somali law," the statement read.
The statement made no mention of where charcoal was being exported from but said it "reaffirms its commitment to support the federal government of Somalia in its efforts to stamp out this illegal trade in charcoal."
A report by a UN monitoring group on Somalia and Eritrea said the principal importers of Somali charcoal are the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which have so far failed to fulfill their obligations to enforce the ban imposed by the Security Council resolution.
Last month Somalia's newly elected government issued warnings about restarting charcoal exports, which UN experts had estimated provided the extremist Shebab with over $25 million in taxes last year from the sale of 9-10 million sacks.
"Somalia's government expresses concern over those violating the United Nations' ban on the export the charcoal," the October 27 statement read.
"The government will do everything within its powers to stop the charcoal export... (and) calls for a complete cessation of charcoal export that is going on in Somalia, especially from the port town of Kismayo."
Diplomatic sources estimate the charcoal at Kismayo to be worth around 20 million dollars.
A Western diplomat said there were reports of large scale charcoal exports from small ports south of Kismayo towards the Kenyan border, which have been under Kenyan control for several months.
"There were large stockpiles left by the Shebab, and these have been dramatically reduced in many places," the source said.
It included an area south of Kismayo called Ras Kamboni, also the name of the militia largely in control of Kismayo, led by strongman and former Shebab commander Ahmed Madobe.
Several areas in southern Somalia were last year declared famine zones, after extreme drought in the Horn of Africa was exacerbated by conflict and destructive charcoal industry ravaging of forests.
Environmental rights group Ecoterra has warned of the "ecocide" of the southern Somali region due to the rampant charcoal industry, and the dire consequences for the pastoralist herders who live there.