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Somali Government Claims Control of Border Town


African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers patrol in their tanks along a main road in Hodan district in of the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, March 4, 2011

African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers patrol in their tanks along a main road in Hodan district in of the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, March 4, 2011

Somali officials say pro-government forces have retaken control of a border town from al-Shabab militants, after several hours of heavy fighting.

The officials said Saturday that security forces and government-friendly militia have seized Belet Hawo on the Kenyan border.

A military official told the Reuters news service that 20 militants were killed in the fighting.

The capture of Belet Hawo is part of the government's offensive to end control by al-Shabab fighters of large parts of the capital, Mogadishu, and of Somalia's central and southern regions. Al-Shabab is trying to overthrow the government and set up a strict Islamic state.

A report by an AU commander in Somalia said recent fighting in Mogadishu has killed at least 40 peacekeepers and wounded 130 others.

The figures, cited in excerpts of a letter obtained by VOA's Somali service, are far higher than those publicly disclosed.

The letter said AU troops suffered the casualties during operations last month to retake key sites from al-Shabab militants. The letter said the operations involved peacekeepers from Burundi.

A spokesman for the AU peacekeeping contingent, known as AMISOM, would not confirm or deny the casualty reports.

But a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, told VOA Friday the bloc has information that at least 50 AU troops have died in recent fighting in Somalia.

Somalia's government has held on to parts of Mogadishu with the help of AU peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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