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Somali Militants Vow to Launch New Attacks on Government, Peacekeepers During Ramadan

The African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, is urging Somali militants not to follow through on their threat to double the number of attacks against AMISOM and government forces during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

In an interview with VOA in Mogadishu, AMISOM spokesman Barigye Ba-Hoku says militant threats against the peacekeepers and Somalia's U.N.-backed government are serious and AMISOM will fight back if provoked.

But Barigye says he believes such attacks will achieve nothing other than to cause more civilian deaths and suffering.

"Ninety-nine [percent] of the attacks from all those forces opposed to the peace process end up injuring not AMISOM, but Somalis," he said. "So, in effect, they are doubling the attacks on the Somalis, on the people whom they claim to protect. So, at the end of the day, it will not be AMISOM that will feel the pain, but rather the population."

Ramadan takes place during the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar and that means many Muslims around the world will begin observing Ramadan this year as of sunset on Thursday. For the vast majority of Muslims, Ramadan is a time of fasting and abstinence, spiritual reflection and prayer. But many extremists view the Muslim holy month a time to renew their fight against perceived enemies.

In Somalia, extremists form the core of al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked group of fighters who control a large area of southern Somalia. Last week, al-Shabab spokesman Ali Mohamed Rage, also known as Ali Dhere, warned the group was planning a number of attacks, to include possible suicide bombings, against AMISOM and government forces during Ramadan.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for an allied fundamentalist-nationalist group called Hisbul Islam, Mohamed Osman Aruus, said his group will also participate in the fighting.

He says the battle will begin at the start of Ramadan with attacks against AMISOM bases in Mogadishu and against government and pro-government forces in all regions of Somalia.

The militant threats come amid reports government and government support forces have re-taken control of several towns in the central Galgadud region of Somalia and the southwestern region of Gedo from al-Shabab.

The Somali government says its troops seized the town of Luq in the Gedo region early Thursday, following an al-Shabab retreat. The takeover of Luq follows the seizure of nearby Bulo Hawa town earlier this week by an armed Islamist religious group allied with the government called Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a.

Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a says its forces fighting al-Shabab in the Galgadud region are now in control of the fiercely-contested town of Wabho. Two months of on-again, off-again fighting in the area have reportedly killed more than 150 civilians.

AMISOM troops first arrived in Somalia in early 2007 to safeguard key sites in the capital from al-Shabab and other insurgents fighting to topple Somalia's transitional government. Since then, more than 20 peacekeepers have been killed in suicide and roadside bombings, blamed on al-Shabab.

Violence has also killed tens of thousands of Somalis and has displaced more than 1.5 million others.

AMISOM spokesman, Barigye Ba-Hoku confirmed that another battalion, or roughly 850 troops, arrived late last month in Mogadishu from Burundi, raising the total number of African Union peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi to more than 5,000.

But persistent under-funding and reluctance by many African states to contribute troops has kept the number below the initial 8,000 troops mandated for the mission.