Somali and African Union Forces Advance in Mogadishu

Published: May 22, 2011

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Government forces and African Union peacekeepers advanced Sunday against rebels in several Mogadishu neighborhoods, gaining ground in their campaign to take control of the Bakara market, officials and witnesses said.

Abdihakim Hajji Mohamoud Fiqi, Somalia’s defense minister, said the government and peacekeeping forces had taken over Wadnaha Road, an important supply route for the insurgent-held market. The market is the commercial heart of the city and taxes on its businesses help finance the insurgency.

Witnesses confirmed that African Union tanks and Somali Army soldiers were on the streets near Wadnaha Road.

Mr. Fiqi said, “The Somali National Army, getting help from the African Union forces, has succeeded in taking over several key positions from the Somali enemy — the atheists of the Shabab.”

The Shabab, radical Islamists who have pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda, are seeking to overthrow the Somali transitional government.

“We assure the business community in Bakara,” Mr. Fiqi said, “that we guarantee the safety of their properties and business as well.”

Abdullahi Ali, a shop owner, said: “I have left my shop in Bakara. There is a heavy firefight near my shop.”

He added, “I have to find a safe location for my life.”

The African Union forces and government forces began their offensive in the area on May 12 and warned civilians “to minimize unnecessary movements within the Bakara market area to avoid being caught up in cross-fire.”

Somalia has been without a central government since 1991, when the government was toppled by clan militias.

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