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Somali govt, AU forces take key town

Xinhua | Updated: 2012-08-28 11:15

MOGADISHU - Somali government forces backed by the African Union (AU) peacekeeping troops on Monday sized the strategic town of Marka in the south of the Horn of Africa country from the militant group of Al-Shabaab, state media and residents said.

"Somali national forces supported by African Union peacekeepers took over total control of the town of Marka after morning offensive towards the town," state radio reported.

Marka is the provincial capital of the Lower Shabelle region and had been under the control of the radical Al-Shabaab fighters since 2008.

The port town had been a key revenue earner for the militant group which has links to the international terror network of Al- Qaida.

Residents in Marka, 100 km south of the Somali capital Mogadishu, say Al-Shabaab fighters fled the town hours before heavily armed government forces and AU peacekeeping troops entered the town.

"The government forces and others are taking positions at key locations in the town such as the police station and main road in Marka. The fighters of Al-Shabaab had left the town long before the troops came in," Maryan Ali, a resident in Marka, told Xinhua.

Marka lays near the main port city of Kismayo, which is a key target for allied Somali government troops and the Kenyan contingent of the African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM) based around the common border of the two countries.

Reports say Al-Shabaab fighters headed towards the historical town of Baravo, one of two main towns under their control in the south of the country.

Al-Shabaab has recently lost ground to Somali government troops and AMISOM forces that now controls most of the southern Somalia and parts of central regions.

The Somali government vowed to take control of all areas under Al-Shabaab's control in the south and center of the country. The Somali government gained full control of the capital Mogadishu last year after concerted offensives against fighters of Al- Shabaab.

Somalia, which has not had a functioning government for over two decades, is in the run-up to elections for leaders of a permanent government after recently inaugurating a new parliament. The war-torn African country is expecting an end to decades of transitional government.

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