Troops seize rebel bases in Mogadishu


African Union (AU) and government troops launched an offensive against Islamist insurgents in the Somali capital yesterday, seizing rebel bases beyond the city's limits for the first time, the AU force said.

Supported by tanks, the AU's Amisom force said it had driven the insurgents out of Mogadishu University as well as the city's Barakaat cemetery, leaving the two sites under government control.

"This is the first time Amisom has been able to secure an area outside the parameters of the city, allowing them to defend greater Mogadishu from the exterior," Paddy Ankunda, a spokesman for the Amisom force, said.

Al-Shabaab, a rebel group linked to al-Qa'ida, pulled most of its fighters out of the capital in August but still hold pockets in the north. An spokesman admitted the rebels had lost ground but said they had trapped the advancing force. "Now we have besieged the Mogadishu University building and we swear these Amisom forces will not have a way out," he said.

The group claimed to have killed 13 Ugandan peacekeepers, an allegation Mr Ankunda denounced as a lie, although he acknowledged that one soldier was likely to die from his wounds.