MOGADISHU, Sept 29 – Somali government forces recaptured a key western town on the border with Ethiopia during a brief battle on Monday with Islamist insurgents that left one dead, officials and witnesses said.
Government forces fought with hardline militias from the Hezb al-Islam group and Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab for no more than 15 minutes in the town of Beledweyn, residents said.
"We have seized control of the town and ousted those people who were oppressing the population," the local government spokesman, Mohamoud Nur, told AFP by phone.
Several witnesses said at least one person was killed and five others wounded in the morning clash. It was not immediately clear if the victims were civilians or combatants.
"This morning the government forces entered the town from the west and repelled the Islamists. They quickly took control of the police station and the region’s headquarters," said Osman Mohamed, a local trader.
"They look in full control of the town and are patrolling the streets."
There were no reports of any military involvement by neighbouring Ethiopia, which has been accused of carrying out incursions into Somalia to support government forces against hardline Islamists.
A month earlier, a powerful local commander and clan leader who had been supporting the government in the region withdrew his support in protest at Ethiopia’s alleged interference.
Sheikh Abdirahman Ibrahim Ma’ow since threw his weight behind Hezb al-Islam, fighting against government forces.
On May 7, Hezb al-Islam and the Shebab launched a broad military operation in Mogadishu and areas of southern and western Somalia aimed at toppling internationally backed Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
The insurgents have accused Sharif — an Islamic cleric — of selling out to the West.