BAIDOA, Somalia, (Reuters) – Somali government troops took control of a southern town from Islamist rebels on Friday in fighting which killed five people, a local official said.
“We have launched fierce attacks on Islamists in order to retake the towns they have previously captured,” Mohamed Maalim, chairman of the Hudur Bakool region told Reuters. “We shall continue the fighting until we completely eradicate Islamists from these regions,” he said.
Three civilians and two insurgents were killed in the fighting for control of Bardale town, 60 km (35 miles) west of Baidoa, the seat of the interim government’s parliament.
Islamist insurgents have stepped up attacks on government and Ethiopian targets in recent months, and have vowed not to cease until the Ethiopian troops, who are backing Somali troops, are withdrawn. But Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has said he will not withdraw troops until an African Union peacekeeping force is fully deployed. Some 3,000 peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi are in the capital Mogadishu, part of a planned 8,000-strong AU mission.
The violence in Somalia has killed nearly 10,000 people and displaced more then a million since the start of last year.
Somali politicians attending a summit in neighbouring Kenya next week hope to push forward a peace process, aimed at halting the conflict in the chaotic Horn of Africa country, which has been without a central government since 1991.