Latest update: 07/03/2011
- African Union - Al Shabaab - Somalia
Militias pushed back in Mogadishu
The African Union peacekeeping force and Somali government troops have captured a key area of Mogadishu and a border town from al Shabaab militias, in a wide offensive to return stability to the country after two decades of war.
By News Wires (text)
REUTERS - The African Union's peacekeeping force in Somalia (AMISOM) captured a key position from al Shabaab rebels in the capital, losing several troops in the fighting, its force commander said on Saturday.
Together with Somali government troops, the 8,000-strong AMISOM force started an offensive against the hardline insurgent group on Feb. 19 as a step towards returning the Horn of Africa country to stability after two decades of conflict.
Major General Nathan Mugisha said the force captured the former ministry of defence building in the north of the city, gaining control of a major al Shabaab base.
"By taking these positions we have effectively reduced their freedom of manoeuvre in that sector," Mugisha told a news conference in Nairobi.
"This peace in Mogadishu comes at a price, and this burden has fallen heavily on AMISOM and government forces," he added.
Casualty figures could not be revealed for security reasons, Mugisha said, adding they had been forwarded to the countries contributing troops to the force.
He said the offensive had increased the number of districts in the capital under the force's control to seven, leaving six contested and three under control of the rebels.
Al Shabaab said it had brought in reinforcements from other regions to help in the battle for Mogadishu.
"All these new fighters will help us in the fight against the so-called AU and government forces," Abu Abdirahman, al Shabaab's governor for Mogadishu, told reporters.
In the south of the country where al Shabaab controls vast areas, Somali troops and government-friendly militia took control of the border town of Beledhawo from the rebels after fighting which killed more than 15 people.
Located a stone's throw from the Kenyan town of Mandera and also the border with Ethiopia, Beledhawo has been the southern front in the offensive by the government.
"Beledhawo town is now under our control after heavy fighting. I see more than 20 bodies of al Shabaab," Colonel Mohamud Ali Shire told Reuters by telephone from the town.
He said government forces will continue fighting until they sweep the insurgents from the region. The government later confirmed the seizure of the town.
"Our national troops have completely seized Beledhawo district today," Defence Minister Abdihakim Haji Fiqi said in a statement.
Residents said they were woken up by the sound of artillery fire early on Saturday, prompting them to flee their homes.
Kenya, which has been training Somali government troops, has looked on warily at the fighting in Beledhawo, at one time contemplating an attack on Shabaab to secure its border.
In Mogadishu, Burundian troops from AMISOM said they stopped a suicide car bomb attack in the early hours of Saturday.