Somali government soldiers man a position in Mogadishu on April 30, 2011
Somali government soldiers man a position in Mogadishu on April 30, 2011

Heavy fighting between Somali government forces and the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab have killed 26 people.

The clashes took place as the two sides battled for control of the southwestern town of Garbaharey in the Gedo region.

Al-Shabab rebels attacked the town on Monday, less than a week after pro-government forces seized it from the militants.

Government officials say Somali forces repelled Monday's rebel attack.  Witnesses say the fighting lasted all day.

A local official told VOA that local elders buried the dead on Tuesday and that all of those killed took part in the battle.

Al-Shabab still controls large sections of southern and central Somalia.  

Somalia's government recently launched an offensive aimed at driving back the militants and has made significant gains in the capital, Mogadishu, and parts of the south.

The group is trying to overthrow the United Nations-backed government and impose a harshly conservative form of Islamic law across Somalia.  

The U.N. refugee agency has expressed concern about the intensifying violence.  The agency says the number of Somalis fleeing their homeland has nearly doubled compared to this time last year.

The U.N. said about 50,000 people fled Somalia during the first three months of this year.  That compares to about 23,000 Somalis who left during the same period in 2010.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.