MOGADISHU (AFP) - Islamist fighters wrested back control of Somalia's southern port of Kismayo on Friday following three days of bloody battles with a local militia that left at least 34 people dead, witnesses said. The retaking of the town by the fighters came more than a year after they were driven out of Kismayo by Ethiopian forces backing the Somali government. "Kismayo is completely under the control of the Islamists," said Muhammad Abdi, a trader and former government official. Another local resident Farah Abdi said: "All militias were driven out and the town is now controlled by the Islamists." Clashes erupted Wednesday between Islamist forces and the militiamen that had controlled Kismayo since the previous rulers fled in early 2007 at the height of the Ethiopian onslaught. A commander of a local armed group said his militia had not been routed by the Islamists, claiming instead that he had ordered his men to make "a tactical withdrawal to avoid a large number of civilian casualties." "There is no complete takeover and our forces will regain control of Kismayo in a very short time," said the commander, Mohamud Hassan. Another militia commander, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they hoped to regain control of the key port in the next day or two. Several corpses still lay on Friday in the combat zones as it was too dangerous for residents to go and collect the bodies, other witnesses said. "We buried around 12 dead bodies this morning and some of them were unidentified civilians caught in the cross-fire," said Muhammad Omar, a Kismayo pharmacist. Militia in Kismayo, some 500km south of the capital Mogadishu, are headed by Aden Barre Shire Hirale, a warlord and a lawmaker who has strained relations with President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed's administration. Ethiopian troops were deployed in late 2006 to prop up government forces battling the Islamist fighters who had taken control of much of southern and central Somalia. Kismayo was the last stronghold of the Islamists. Since the toppling of the Islamist movement at the end of 2006, remnant fighters have resorted to guerrilla tactics against the Ethiopian forces, government soldiers and African Union peacekeepers in the capital Mogadishu.