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Page last updated at 12:26 GMT, Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Insurgents 'seize' Somalia port

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Islamist militants have taken control of the port of Merka, 90km (56 miles) south of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Local residents witnessed fighters from the Islamist group al-Shabab taking the port without a fight, after pro-government militia left overnight.

The capture of Merka is a significant territorial gain, which follows al-Shabab's capture of the port of Kismayo in August.

Merka is an important point of delivery for food aid arriving in Somalia.

Somalia has been wracked by conflict since 1991, and is now facing an Islamist and nationalist insurgency.

More than three million people - almost half Somalia's population - are in acute need of food or medical aid, according to the UN.

A spokesman for the UN World Food Programme, Peter Smerdon, told the BBC that Merka was "very strategic", adding that 850,000 people were fed on food brought in through the port in October.

He said the WFP was neutral and would work with the authorities in place, but that the agency had not had any contact with al-Shabab.

Al-Shabab has rejected a recent UN peace agreement between the Somali government and moderate Islamists.

The interim government has lost control of large parts of the country to an insurgency driven by Islamist and nationalist groups.

The government is backed by troops from neighbouring Ethiopia, who are deeply unpopular with many Somalis.

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