Somali militant group al-Shabab has taken control of the strategic port town of Merca, 100 kilometers south of the capital, residents and officials said on Monday.
The government troops and the African Union peacekeepers who have been controlling the town left at dawn, giving al-Shabab militants a port on the Somalia coast.
“The AMISOM and government troops withdrew from the town at dawn this morning and now heavily armed al-Shabab militants are manning the city’s major check-points,” one of the residents told VOA on condition of anonymity.
“The militants took up the strategic locations and hoisted their flag,” another resident said.
In an interview with the VOA Somali, Abdifitah Ibrahim Geesey, the security minister of the South Western Somali Federal State confirmed that the militants have taken the control of the town.
This is the second time the militant took over the town since February this year.
It is not clear why African Union troops and the Somali army withdrew from the area, but this comes hours after al-Shabab fighters temporarily overran a Somali government military base in Laanta Buur, a former prison about 40 kilometers west of Mogadishu.
During the attack at least eight government soldiers and five militants were killed according to officials and residents.
Eight wounded government soldiers have also been admitted at hospitals in Mogadishu.
Al-Shabab was ousted from the capital, Mogadishu, in August 2011, but still has a presence in large areas of southern Somalia and often stages attacks across the country.