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Page last updated at 14:18 GMT, Wednesday, 19 August 2009 15:18 UK

Somali town cleared of radicals

Young Islamist fighters in Mogadishu
Islamist groups control much of southern Somalia

Islamists fighting Somalia's UN-backed government have lost control of a town - the second such loss in recent days.

Commanders from a local militia group say they took Luq town, near the Ethiopia border, without a fight.

On Monday Ahlu Sunna drove radicals out of the nearby town of Bulo Hawo as part of a continuing offensive.

Analysts say the development is a significant reversal of fortune for the radical Islamists, who have been fighting to overthrow the government.

Thousands of civilians have been killed and more than a million driven from their homes because of fighting in the past two years.

On Tuesday, the UN said Somalia was now the world's most dangerous country for aid workers.

Forty-two workers have been killed since January 2008 and a further 33 abducted, the UN said.

Foreign fighters

In recent days, Somali militias opposed to hard-line Islamists have stepped up a campaign to drive their fighters out of towns in the south-western province of Gedo.

Somalia map

Correspondents say Hisbul-Islam, who had controlled Luq town, fled when they heard the troops were approaching.

A local elder in Luq told AFP news agency there had been no fighting.

"We saw the pro-government militia enter the town... and they now control it."

But locals expressed fears that militias could be gathering on the outskirts to launch a counter-attack.

Hisbul-Islam and its ally al-Shabab are fighting the UN-backed interim government and together control much of southern Somalia.

Both groups are said to have links to al-Qaeda and have been reinforced by foreign fighters.

Both Luq and Bulo Hawo are close to the border with Ethiopia and Kenya - an area that has in the past been controlled by groups with links to Ethiopia and who are deeply suspicious of the Islamist rebels.

Analysts say it would have been tough for the insurgents to maintain control there, and if recent reports of splits in rebel ranks are true, it would have been doubly difficult.

But the BBC's East Africa correspondent Peter Greste says it does appear to be a significant setback for the Islamists.

He says while Ahlu Sunna's aims broadly support the embattled government, diplomats worry that if it becomes too strong it will become yet another faction in Somalia's already deeply splintered landscape.



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