Al-Shabab Militants Retreat from Somali Capital

Posted August 6th, 2011 at 4:20 pm (UTC-5)
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The African Union-backed government in Somalia has hailed the withdrawal of al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militants from almost all their bases in the country's famine-struck capital, Mogadishu.

In a statement Saturday, Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said it is a “tremendous step forward” towards a more stable Somalia. He said the al-Shabab retreat is the result of military operations by the Somali army and African Union peacekeepers.

A spokesman for the AU peacekeepers also hailed what he called a “defeat” for al-Shabab, saying it is “the beginning of the end” for the Islamist militants. Mogadishu Mayor Mohamed Ahmed Noor said government forces will continue to pursue militants in other parts of Somalia.

The top United Nations official for Somalia welcomed the news, but cautioned that security risks, including possible terrorist attacks, remain and should not be underestimated.

But an al-Shabab spokesman said the retreat, which began late Friday, is a strategic move and the militants will remain in other towns in southern Somalia.

Al-Shabab has been fighting to topple the government for the past several years and controls large areas of Somalia, including those that are worst-affected by drought and famine. The group has tightly controlled the delivery of aid to famine victims and has banned access for many international aid agencies.

Both the AU spokesman and Prime Minister Abdiweli said it will now be easier for aid agencies to supply food and other aid to Mogadishu.

The U. N. says thousands of Somalis have already died from the effects of the drought. The crisis has forced hundreds of thousands of Somalis to flee their homes in search of food and water. Many have gone to camps in Mogadishu, while others have fled to crowded refugee camps in Kenya or Ethiopia.

Overall, the U.N. says five districts of Somalia are in famine and more than three million people are in need of immediate live-saving assistance. It says that famine has spread among the internally displaced populations of Mogadishu and the Afgoye corridor to the west of the capital.