- Title: SOMALIA: President declares victory over al Shabaab
- Date: 7th August 2011
- Summary: MOGADISHU, SOMALIA (AUGUST 06, 2011) (REUTERS) **CONTAINS FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY** VARIOUS SOMALIA ELDERS ATTENDING PRESIDENT'S NEWS CONFERENCE SOMALIA PRESIDENT PREPARING FOR NEWS CONFERENCE SOMALIA ELDER (SOUNDBITE) (Somali) SOMALIA PRESIDENT, SHEIKH SHARIF AHMED, SAYING: "The Somali government welcomes the success attained by the Somali government forces backed by AMISOM (peacekeepers) who defeated the enemy of al Shabaab. We have declared to fight our main enemies who cause insecurity in our country." PRESIDENTIAL GUARD AT NEWS CONFERENCE SOMALIA PRESIDENT LEAVES NEWS CONFERENCE
- Embargoed: 22nd August 2011 13:00
- Location: Somalia, Somalia
- Country: Somalia
- Topics: Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA1H397V3AZC7W3TY4WAXIX2J8U
- Story Text: Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said on Saturday (August 6) his military had defeated Islamist rebels battling to overthrow his Western-backed government after the al Shabaab group began withdrawing fighters from the capital Mogadishu.
Rejecting Ahmed's claim to have quashed al Shabaab's four-year insurgency, the militants' spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, said their retreat was tactical only and that they were holding their positions elsewhere in the anarchic country.
A 9,000-strong African peacekeeping force and Somali government forces had been steadily wresting control of rubble-strewn Mogadishu from the militants this year. Al Shabaab's pullout followed a string of fierce gunbattles late on Friday.
Somalia has been without effective central government since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre 20 years ago.
Winning Mogadishu might expand the government's capital prison a little, but it is unlikely to bring any tangible peace to the rest of the Horn of Africa country.
"The Somali government welcomes the success attained by the Somali government forces backed by AMISOM who defeated the enemy of al Shabaab," Ahmed told a news conference at his residence.
Al Shabaab has never previously entirely left Mogadishu, raising questions over whether deep rifts among the al Qaeda-affiliated group's senior commanders had finally led to a split.
One faction prefers a more nationalist Somali agenda and wants to impose a harsh Islamic programme on the nation. Another more international wing aims to promote Jihad (holy war) and is bent on overthrowing a government they see as a Western stooge as well as forging closer ties with regional al Qaeda cells.
This faction had gained clout with the influx of foreign fighters. Those divisions became sharper as a series of military offensives in Mogadishu exacted a heavy toll on the rebels.
"We understand there is disagreement among their top leaders," Farhan Ali, who lives in what was an al Shabaab controlled neighbourhood, told Reuters. "They were not displaced by force."
Similar sentiments were expressed by Somalis with links to al Shabaab in other parts of the country, including in the southern port city of Kismayu, the nerve centre of al Shabaab's operations in the south of the country.
"We have abandoned Mogadishu but we remain in other towns," Rage said on the al Shabaab-run Andalus radio station. "We aren't leaving you, but we have changed our tactics. Everyone of you will feel the change in every corner and every street in Mogadishu. We will defend you and continue the fighting," Rage said.
Witnesses said convoys of al Shabaab "technicals" -- open-top 4x4s mounted with machine guns -- headed south from Mogadishu towards the al Shabaab-controlled town of Baidoa, 250 km (150 miles) southwest of the capital.
"I saw 50 armed al Shabaab vehicles heading towards Baidoa shortly after morning prayers," Aweys Sharif said by telephone from the town of Afgoye, 30 km (18 miles) south of Mogadishu.
Residents in Mogadishu's northern districts watched from the streets as the rebel fighters, many covering their faces with masks, left with the families.
"Today is a different day. We never dared watch them and their families like this. But still we are afraid to enter their bases. We cannot dance or rejoice yet," said Ali.
President Ahmed urged those who had fled their homes not to rush back to the city neighbourhoods now empty of militants until they had been cleared of explosives.
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