Somali Islamist fighters bolster positions round key town
MOGADISHU — Somali Islamist insurgents said Monday they were reinforcing positions around a key town close to the Ethiopian border, two days after it was taken by Ethiopian and Somali government forces.
Witnesses and officials said Somali government and Ethiopian forces wrested control of Beledweyne -- a strategic town about 30 kilometres (20 miles) from Ethiopia in central Somalia's Hiran region -- from Shebab insurgents on Saturday.
"Hundreds of mujahedeen fighters are now heading towards Beledweyne, they will be confronting the invading enemy from Ethiopia and, God willing, the enemy will be crushed," said Sheikh Ibrahim Moalim, a Shebab commander in Hiran.
Somali government officials meanwhile claimed they were advancing on other positions held by the Al-Qaeda linked Shebab.
"The violent elements have been defeated, and they will have no place in this region to hide. Our forces are closing in on Bulobarde, which is their only remaining base," Mohamed Nur, a Somali security official said, referring to a town some 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Beledweyne.
"They have started fleeing, and in the coming hours we will secure the town. We will eliminate Al-Shebab completely from the region," he added.
Witnesses confirmed the troop movements in the region.
"People are concerned about the Ethiopian troops' advance on Bulobarde, and Al-Shebab are reinforcing their positions now," said Nuradin Abdulahi, a resident of Bulobarde.
"The Ethiopian troops have taken cover in big trenches, and I saw tanks moving into positions," said another witness, Abdikarin Ahmed.
Both witnesses said the Ethiopian forces also carried out security raids in Beledweyne district, arresting dozens of people allegedly linked to the Shebab.