After a recent offensive, the government has claimed control over 60 per cent of Mogadishu [EPA]

A major offensive by African Union troops in Somalia, in which dozens of peacekeepers from Burundi and Uganda were killed, reclaimed "significant" territory from insurgents, an African Union envoy has said.

During a special debate on Thursday, the United Nations Security Council paid tribute to those peacekeepers who had been killed in operations. The UNSC was discussing ways in which to end a two-decade old civil war in Somalia and to curb piracy off its coast.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, appealed for greater international aid for the country, and specifically for more help being offered to the 8,000-strong AU force in Somalia (AMISOM).

"Dozens of brave peacekeepers of AMISOM from Burundi and Uganda made the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of peace," Ban told the council.

Burundi has announced that at least 43 of its soldiers were killed, but Uganda has yet to acknowledge any deaths.

Neither the UN nor the AU have yet issued a final death toll for AMISOM's military operations.

Boubacar Diarra, an AU special representative for Somalia, told the 15-member council that AMISOM and government forces had over the past two weeks "changed the picture on the ground in Mogadishu [the Somali capital] significantly".

The force had taken key positions in northwest Mogadishu, including a former defence ministry building which was a major rebel logistical and operational base, the envoy said.

The country's transition government now claims that it controls about 60 per cent of the capital and about 80 per cent of the city's population now lives in those areas, Diarra said.

The transition government's mandate, however, runs out on August 20, and as yet there is neither a new constitution, nor an agreement between Somalia's various clans and factions on any new government.

'Fragile gains'

Ban warned that "the military gains by the transitional federal government and AMISOM are fragile. The humanitarian situation is dire. Violence continues to rage".

Western nations have demanded faster moves by the transitional authority to reach a political accord with opponents, extend its territorial reach and improve services to the population.

A Security Council statement called on the government to "intensify" efforts to complete its transition work, finish a constitution and "consolidate the reconciliation process".

Mohamed Abdulahi Mohamed, the prime minister of the fragile government in Somalia, thanked the international community for its help in "rid[ding] Somalia of its sworn enemy, Shebab, which is part of the vast global terrorist network".

Mohamed paid tribute to the Burundian and Ugandan troops "who have and are sacrificing their lives for Somalia".

African nations are demanding that the United Nations take full control of the AU force so that it can be better equipped for the battle in Somalia, or at least make sure that the troops get the same salary as counterparts on UN

Somalia has had no functioning government since dictator Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991.

Source: Agencies