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Somali Government Claims Advances in Mogadishu

An African Union peacekeeper looks out of a reinforced position during clashes with insurgents in southern Mogadishu's Hodon neighborhood, Somalia, 03 Oct 2010

Somalia's government says its troops and African Union forces have re-taken parts of the capital, Mogadishu, from insurgents.

A statement Monday from the Ministry of Information said government and AU troops have secured a hotel, a former military hospital and a public square, among other places within the last few days. It said the positions are close to the Bakara market, a stronghold of militant group al-Shabab.

The statement also mentioned reports of a rift within al-Shabab's leadership. The government said the group's second-in-command, Muktar Robow, may have withdrawn his fighters from Mogadishu. There has been no comment from al-Shabab.

Meanwhile, witnesses report more heavy fighting in Mogadishu between pro-government forces and the insurgents. Residents said the fighting, centered in the Hodan district, has killed at least 20 people since it began Saturday.

Al-Shabab and another insurgent group, Hizbul Islam, are trying to topple Somalia's U.N.-backed government. Al-Shabab began a major offensive in late August but has failed to seize the few areas of Mogadishu still under government control.

The government said Robow's forces suffered the brunt of casualties during the offensive. It said nearly 10 percent of the 2,000 men he deployed in the city were killed.

Both al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam are trying to turn Somalia into a strict Islamic state. The groups have imposed a harshly conservative form of sharia, or Islamic law, in the areas they rule.

Last week, delegates from more than 40 countries and international bodies called for more funding so the AU can expand its peacekeeping force in Somalia. The force, which currently has about 7,200 soldiers, has enabled the government to maintain control of the airport and other key parts of the capital.