7 October 2010

Africa: AU Force Captures More of Mogadishu

Kampala — AFRICAN Union troops have captured more territory and may control half of Somalia's rubble-strewn capital Mogadishu by the end of October after weakening the Islamist rebels, the AU's envoy to the Horn of Africa nation said yesterday.

Quoted by Reuters, Wafula Wamunyinyi said the Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers that make up the 7,200-strong AMISOM force were seizing new ground from the insurgents daily, gradually pushing the frontline towards the city outskirts.

"Our forces now have a presence across more than forty percent (of Mogadishu). We anticipate it should be more than fifty percent this month if we continue to make this progress," Wamunyinyi told reporters in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

He said he was referring to areas AMISOM considered under its control, where there was relative peace and residents could move freely, although militant incursions could not be ruled out.

Two militant groups have waged a three-year insurgency to topple the Western-backed interim government that experts say is plagued by internal rifts and corruption.

In a rebel offensive against government positions in late August, both government troops and the militants claimed to have won new ground.

But the peacekeepers say they have regained 11 positions and the government says the rebel offensive split the militant leaders over command structures and the role of foreign jihadists.

"They are at their weakest. If we had sufficient troop numbers we could move quickly," Wamunyinyi said.

On Wednesday, President Yoweri Museveni said the UN Security Council was considering a proposal to raise more funds for an expanded peacekeeping mission in the lawless nation.

Uganda, which was hit by a twin suicide bomb attack carried out by al-Shabaab in July, says it could raise the entire 20,000-strong force the AU says is needed to pacify Somalia.

AU peacekeepers and government soldiers clashed with rebels for a sixth straight day in Mogadishu on Thursday.

Ali Muse, an ambulance service worker, said more than 40 people had died and hundreds of families uprooted from their homes in the latest bout of fighting.

Meanwhile, the African Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has refuted reports that the al-Shabaab captured and killed a Burundian peacekeeper.

"AMISOM refutes this outright. All AMISOM troops are accounted for. We have conducted a head-count of all our personnel in the field and confirm that none are missing," said AMISOM spokesperson, Maj. Barigye Ba-Hoku.

He described the claim as "a desperate al- Shabaab ploy," to divert attention from the losses which have led to a split within the extremists' ranks.

"Under pressure from our forces, divisions within the al-Shabaab leadership have resulted in the withdrawal of much of their fighting force from the capital and other important towns," said Barigye.

He accused the al-Shabaab of abducting and brainwashing children to serve as fighters and suicide bombers.

The battle with the al-Shabaab has raged on since August.

The war-torn country has not had a stable government since 1991.

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