Somali forces seize Beledhawo from insurgents
Somali government forces and government-friendly militia took control of the border town of Beledhawo from al Shabaab rebels, after heavy fighting which killed more than 15 people, officials said today.world Updated: Mar 05, 2011 18:18 IST
Somali government forces and government-friendly militia took control of the border town of Beledhawo from al Shabaab rebels, after heavy fighting which killed more than 15 people, officials said on Saturday.
Located a stone's throw away from the Kenyan town of Mandera and the border with Ethiopia, Beledhawo, is a front on the Somali government's push against the rebels in the capital and in their strongholds in the south of the country.
"Beledhawo town is now under our control after heavy fighting. I see more than 20 dead bodies of al Shabaab," Colonel Mohamud Ali Shire told Reuters by telephone from the town.
"We shall continue fighting till we sweep them out of the whole 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. "They will not withdraw. We urge the residents there to support the government," he added.
Residents said they were woken up by the sound of artillery fire early on Saturday, prompting them to flee their homes. "We have run to the border. Kenya has fully closed its border and brought all its troops and weapons, we don't know what to do. Even if the government troops and Ahlu Sunna push them (Shabaab) back we will be dead because of lack of shelter and the cross fire," said Maryan Maalim, mother of two children.
Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca is a moderate religious group that supports the transitional federal government. Led by President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the government is viewed by the international community as the best hope of returning the 'Horn of Africa' country to stability after two decades of conflict.
It has been facing a four year insurgency led by the al Shabaab rebel group which professes loyalty to al Qaeda. The government is also backed by an 8,000 strong African Union peacekeeping force, AMISOM.
Hussein Ali, another Beledhawo resident said Kenyan and Ethiopian troops were still deployed along their borders close to Mandera.
Kenya, which has been training Somali government troops, has looked on wearily 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. "Al Shabaab have targeted us with a suicide car bomb but we foiled before it entered our compound," Colonel Frolibert Nsabiyumva, a spokesman for the Burundian forces said.
The force is scheduled to hold a news conference on the situation in Somalia in the Kenyan capital later on Saturday.