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Somalia Government Troops Capture Town Held By Islamists

Islamist militia leaders in Somalia say government troops have taken control of a town near the government base of Baidoa that had been held by militias loyal to the rival Islamic Courts Union.

The town of Burahakaba is located on the road that runs from the capital, Mogadishu, which the Islamic Courts Union controls, to Baidoa, the current seat of the internationally backed transitional government.

According to media reports, citing eyewitnesses, Somali interim government forces, backed by what media reports said were Ethiopian troops, overran the town, forcing fighters from the Islamic Courts Union to flee.

Ethiopia has repeatedly denied any troop presence in Somalia.

Somali Foreign Affairs Minister Esmael Mohamud Hurreh would not comment on the reported attack. He tells VOA that, it is the transitional federal government, which he refers to as TFG, that has the legitimacy in the volatile country.

"Our administration relies on a system where authority and resource division is actually done by the people. It is the government of the people, in actual sense, not in theoretical sense," he said. " A lot of people are asking for that, and seeing that the Islamic Courts are trying now to stop that, and to really see these movement of Islamic Courts coincide with the beginning of the TFG administrative structures."

The Islamic Courts Union, in turn, argues that its aim is to bring peace and stability to Somalia, and that the Courts have the best interest of the people in mind.

The Courts union first started expanding control in June, when its militias control of the capital, Mogadishu. It has since captured much of southern Somalia.

Monday's attack appears to be the first major advance against the Islamic Courts Union by the Somali government.

Somalia's interim government and the Union of Islamic Courts have been trying to negotiate a peace agreement that would see some sort of a power-sharing arrangement between them. The two met in Sudan last month, and are scheduled to finalize their agreement at the end of this month.

The two sides are also deadlocked over the issue of a regional peacekeeping force that the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development has offered, and, which the African Union has endorsed.

The Courts are vehemently opposed to having foreign peacekeepers in Somalia, while the government supports such a move. The Courts also maintain that Ethiopian troops have crossed over into Somalia to support the Somali government, a claim the government denies.

Since civil war broke out in 1991, militias loyal to clan and sub-clan-based factions have controlled different parts of the country, with no central authority to provide law and order and even basic services to the population.

A transitional Somali parliament was formed in Kenya more than a year ago following a peace process.