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Somali Government Claims Control of Buale

The Somali government says it has control over a town that experienced a battle with the Islamic Courts Sunday.

The coordinator of Somali affairs in Kenya, Mohamed Ali Nur Americo, tells VOA that, as of Monday morning local time, government troops are controlling the town of Buale, more than 80 kilometers north of the port city of Kismayo.

"As far as we are concerned, this morning the minister of defense and his forces are in Buale," he said. "They are controlling that area. If there's any further counterattack, the ministry of defense and its forces are ready to defend themselves and defend the area."

Buale Sunday was the scene of a fierce battle between fighters aligned to the Islamic Courts Union and government troops. At least five people were reportedly killed in the fighting.

The French news agency quoted Islamic officials as saying that they had chased away members of the area's militia Juba Valley Alliance and had taken their armed vehicles.

Islamist commander Sheikh Yakubu Ali told the French news agency, AFP, that the Islamic Courts Union is controlling Buale.

Meanwhile, government troops have reportedly withdrawn from the town of Burhakaba, located about 60 kilometers southeast of Baidoa where the government is based, following fighting there Saturday, also between government troops and Islamic Courts Union fighters. Somali news websites quote a local Islamic court leader as saying the Islamic Courts Union has re-taken control of Burhakaba.

The coordinator of Somali affairs in Kenya Americo tells VOA Islamist fighters have gathered in a small town called Lego near Burhakaba.

"The report that we had last night was that the Islamic Courts were in a small town called Lego," he said. "But as of this morning there was no counter-attack from the Islamic Courts and there was no fighting."

Government troops took control of Burhakaba from the Islamists on October 9, which appeared to be the first major advance against the Islamic Courts Union by the Somali government.

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

Somalia's interim government and the Islamic Courts Union 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.

The ICU has declared a "holy war" against Ethiopian troops allegedly on Somali territory, saying in a statement Monday that "their graves would litter the country."

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.