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AU, Somali Troops Oust Islamists From Key Stronghold

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A spokesman for the African Union Mission in Somalia says that AU and Somali forces have pushed Islamist militants out of a town on the outskirts of the capital, Mogadishu.

Paddy Ankunda said Friday that the troops crossed into Afgoye earlier in the day and that most of the town was now under their control, while some fighting with al-Shabab militants was still going on.

The capture of Afgoye represents a major advance for African Union and Somali troops, who have made strong gains against al-Shabab over the last year.  More than 300,000 internally displaced Somalis live around Afgoye, but Islamist rebels have blocked delivery of humanitarian aid for them.

Al-Shabab has held the Afgoye corridor for years in its campaign to overthrow Somalia's United Nations-backed transitional government and impose strict Islamic law.  The group once controlled most of southern and central Somalia, but has steadily lost ground in the past 18 months to AU, Somali, Kenyan and Ethiopian forces.

The U.N. mission in Somalia has described the offensive as a "carefully planned operation" in which troops are taking every precaution to prevent harming civilians.

Somalia's main political groups ended three days of talks Wednesday agreeing to support a political process leading to a post-transitional government by August.  The six parties agreed to put some difficult issues and disagreements aside in the interest of keeping to a timetable for creation of a post-transitional government in less than 90 days.

Somalia has not had a stable government since its former dictator, Mohamed Siad Barre, fled the country in 1991.

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