MOGADISHU (Reuters) - African Union and Somali government troops secured an aid corridor between Mogadishu and a former rebel stronghold close to the capital, the AU said, wresting control of a strip of land believed to hold around 400,000 people displaced by conflict.
The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali forces seized the town of Afgoye from the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab insurgents on Friday.
The joint operation then took control of Elasha Biyaha, the last remaining al Shabaab stronghold in the 30 km (20 mile) corridor, making the area safe for aid groups to operate in, AMISOM said late on Sunday.
The rebels had used Afgoye as a strategic base to stage sporadic attacks on the Somali capital.
The corridor northwest of Mogadishu is believed to hold 400,000 internally displaced people, the largest such concentration in the world, with some access to aid.
The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday about 6,200 people had been displaced by the fighting in Afgoye.
“The week-long operation... has enabled a free flow of civilian traffic between Afgoye and Mogadishu, and provided the opportunity for humanitarian agencies to access the area,” AMISOM said.
“Previously, al Shabaab had prevented aid groups from delivering assistance to the people in the corridor.”
The rebel group has waged a bloody five-year campaign to topple Somalia’s Western-backed government and impose its harsh interpretation of Islamic law (sharia).
It continues to hold swathes of central and southern Somalia but is being squeezed out of some areas by Kenyan and Ethiopian troops, which have launched incursions inside Somalia in support of the beleaguered government.
Somalia has been mired in chaos since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by John Stonestreet