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Amisom secures Somali aid corridor

2012-05-29 12:49

Mogadishu - African Union and Somali government troops secured an aid corridor between Mogadishu and a former rebel stronghold close to the capital, the AU said, wresting control of a strip of land believed to hold about 400 000 people displaced by conflict.

The African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) and Somali forces had seized the town of Afgoye from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab insurgents on Friday.

The joint force then took control of Elasha Biyaha, the last remaining al-Shabaab stronghold in the 30km corridor, making the area safe for aid groups to operate in, Amisom said.

The corridor northwest of Mogadishu is believed to hold 400 000 internally displaced people, the largest such concentration in the world, with some access to aid.

"The week-long operation ... has enabled a free flow of civilian traffic between Afgoye and Mogadishu, and provided the opportunity for humanitarian agencies to access the area," Amisom said.

"Previously, al-Shabaab had prevented aid groups from delivering assistance to the people in the corridor."

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has said about 9 200 people have been displaced by the fighting in Afgoye.

Al-Shabaab had used Afgoye as a strategic base to stage sporadic attacks on the Somali capital.

The rebel group called its withdrawal a tactical retreat, just as it did after pulling out of the capital in August and several other towns subsequently, and pledged to strike back.

Internal divisions

"We were not overpowered. We withdrew to avoid civilian casualties. It is part of our tactics," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, the spokesperson for al-shabaab's military operation, told Reuters by telephone.

"The capture of Afgoye means nothing. We attacked it last night," Musab said.

Weakened by internal divisions and financial constraints, the rebels have surrendered territory in Mogadishu and across central and southern Somalia where they are also battling Ethiopian forces as well as Kenyan soldiers now integrated into Amisom.

A blast struck the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Monday but there was confusion over whether the explosion was caused by bomb or by a huge electrical fault.

Kenya has blamed al-Shabaab and its sympathisers for a string of attacks in Nairobi and the port city of Mombasa that have killed 10 people since Kenya sent troops across the border in October.

In areas they have vacated, the militants have resorted to guerrilla-style hit-and-run attacks, launching grenade attacks and using suicide bombers.

The rebel group has waged a bloody five-year campaign to topple Somalia's Western-backed government and impose its harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

It continues to hold swathes of central and southern Somalia but is being squeezed out of some areas by Kenyan and Ethiopian troops, which have launched incursions inside Somalia in support of the beleaguered government.