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Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, Somali: AU Troops Patrol Mogadishu after al-Shabab Retreat

August 7, 2011

Somali government troops and African Union peacekeepers are patrolling the streets of Mogadishu, a day after al-Shabab militants staged a surprise withdrawal from most of the Somali capital.

Somalia's prime minister, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, has called the pullout "a tremendous step forward" toward a more stable country.

But a small number of gunmen with the al-Qaida-linked insurgent group remain in the city. And there were reports Sunday of several skirmishes.

An al-Shabab spokesman is quoted as saying the withdrawal was merely a change in military tactics and that the Islamist group plans to fight on.

Al-Shabab militants continue to control most of southern Somalia, where despite an ongoing famine, it is denying residents access to international aid agencies.

The United Nations says thousands of Somalis have died of starvation, many of them in an effort to reach refugee camps in Mogadishu. Others have sought refuge in crowded camps in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.

The U.N. estimates that more than 3 million Somalis are in need of immediate assistance, along with millions more across the Horn of Africa.

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