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Africa
Shabab and Ethiopian troops clash in Somalia
Scores dead as al-Shabab and Ethiopian army engage in a three-hour-long gun battle in Yurkud, close to nations' border.
Last Modified: 10 Mar 2012 17:26
The fighting comes a day after the African Union said Ethiopia will remove its troops by the end of April [EPA]

Scores of people have been killed after the Somali armed Islamist group al-Shabab attacked Ethiopian troops in a town close to the border of both countries.

There were differing accounts of which side bore the brunt of the fighting in Yurkud on Saturday, the worst involving Ethiopian troops since they returned in force to Somalia last year after withdrawing in early 2009.

The fighting came the day after the African Union (AU) said Ethiopia planned to pull its troops out of the Horn of Africa
nation by the end of April with soldiers from Djibouti, Uganda and Burundi taking their positions.

The governor of Bay region in Somalia, Abdifatah Mohamed Ibrahim Gesey, told the Reuters news agency that 130 al-Shabab fighters were killed, with minimal loses on the government and Ethiopian side, after the group tried to seize Yurkud twice.  

Sheik Abdiaziz Abu-Musab, al-Shabab's spokesperson, said that the group had "killed 73 soldiers and recovered 20 guns". He also said that five al-Shabab fighters had been killed.

In-depth coverage of the regional political crisis

On the social networking site, Twitter, al-Shabab's press office said: "Battle in Yurkud today results in the largest number of #Ethiopian casualties in a single day since the beginning of their second invasion.

"Ethiopians are gradually realising that their decision to once again endure the pain of HSM strikes appears highly improvident & untenable."

Earlier on Saturday, the group said on the twitter that "the Mujahideen launched an assault on Ethiopian army bases in Yurkud, 40km away from Luuq, Gedo region".

Somalia has been plagued by a relentless conflict since president Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.

In February, Somali and world leaders met in London for a conference aimed at finding solutions to the Horn of Africa country's protracted crisis that has spawned piracy, violent fighting and a devastating humanitarian crisis.

The attack was typical of the groups's new strategy of attacking enemy rear bases after being forced out of fixed positions in urban areas by pro-government foreign forces.

African Union forces

Yurkud is a key position on the supply line for Ethiopian forces in Baidoa.

 

Al-Shabab fighters are also under pressure from an AU force of Ugandan and Burundian troops which ousted them from the capital Mogadishu, and Kenyan troops who entered Somalia from the south in October.

The Kenyan army, which since last month has been part of the AU force, said on Saturday it had launched at least five land and air attacks in the past week on al-Shabab fighters still active behind its lines some 15kn to 20km from the Somali-Kenya border.

"These are pockets of remnants of al-Shabab that have been left behind and their main purpose is to try to disrupt our activities in that area and cause disharmony between our forces and the local communities," Colonel Cyrus Ogona, a Kenyan military spokesman said.

"This calls for continued pacification operations until the time that we are certain that the area is stable enough."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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