Somalis Flee Town Ahead of Expected Fighting

Posted February 16th, 2012 at 10:45 am (UTC-5)
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Thousands of Somalis are fleeing a town near Mogadishu, ahead of expected fighting between African Union forces and the militant group al-Shabab.

Elasha Biyaha is located about 30 kilometers west of the capital, and is home to hundreds of thousands of displaced Mogadishu residents who fled the city in 2007 and 2008, as al-Shabab battled Ethiopian troops in the city.

Witnesses tell VOA that many people are now heading back to Mogadishu amid fears that AU troops are about to attack al-Shabab forces in Elasha Biyaha and in nearby Afgoye.

AU and Somali government forces recently drove al-Shabab out of Mogadishu, as part of efforts to increase the government's authority in Somalia and stabilize the country.

Al-Shabab is also facing pressure from Ethiopian troops in central Somalia and Kenyan forces in the south.

Last week, al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri announced that al-Shabab had formally joined the terrorist network.

That prompted Somalia's government to request greater international help to fight the group, which still controls large sections of southern and central Somalia despite recent losses.

Somalia has not had a stable central government since the fall of President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.