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By Sahra Abdi
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Somalia's hardline al Shabaab insurgents amputated a foot and a hand each from two young men accused of being robbers in southern Kismayu port Friday.
A third local man who was sentenced to suffer the same punishment had only his foot cut off after the rebels realised one of his hands was disabled.
Al Shabaab, which Washington says is al Qaeda's proxy in the failed Horn of Africa state, has imposed its strict version of Islamic law on much of the south and parts of Mogadishu.
Friday, thousands of Kismayu residents gathered in a central square to watch the latest amputations.
"It was shocking. No one could endure such a sight. They were bleeding heavily when they were carried away," local woman Asha Bulle told Reuters by telephone from the scene.
Another witness, Farah Hussein, said residents were told on Thursday to attend by al Shabaab fighters, and that almost the whole port had turned out to watch Friday's punishments. "All these three men are close relatives," he said, adding that they were accused of stopping a car outside the port a month ago and stealing money and valuables from the occupants.
Another man who was among the spectators and gave his name as Kaltuma told Reuters the third man began foaming at the mouth and then passed out as his foot was cut off.
"FORCED TO WATCH"
"It was so shocking. Most of us tried to run away from the sight -- but we were forced to stay and watch," he said.
Fighting in Somalia has killed 19,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and driven another 1.5 million from their homes.
Islamic courts run by al Shabaab clerics have ordered executions, floggings and amputations before, mostly in Kismayu, but also in rebel-held districts of the capital.
"The people they robbed are the ones who accused them," the group's spokesman in Kismayu, Sheikh Hassan Yaqub, told Reuters by telephone from the scene. "The Islamic Sharia court sentenced them to have their hands and feet cut off."
Thursday, Somali police warned al Shabaab was plotting more suicide car bomb attacks on the government and African Union (AU) troops, possibly using ambulances.
The group hit the headquarters of the AU mission in Mogadishu in an audacious attack last month that killed 17 peacekeepers, including the Burundian deputy force commander.
Clashes between al Shabaab and fighters from one-time rebel allies Hizbul Islam for control of Kismayu last week looked to have given President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed's fragile U.N.-backed administration some much-needed breathing space.
But this week the groups said they had agreed a cease-fire and that they planned to continue their attacks together on the government and AU peacekeepers.
(Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh and Mohamed Ahmed in Mogadishu; Editing by Daniel Wallis)