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Somali troops advance against rebels

MOGADISHU, Somalia - African Union and Somali forces captured new territory outside Mogadishu that has long been controlled by militant fighters, officials said Wednesday.

Tanks are tearing through the thorny scrubland to the northwest of Mogadishu, where tens of thousands of internal refugees live in informal camps in an area known as the Afgoye corridor.

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Troops on Wednesday were about 6 miles from Afgoye town following the launch of the operation on Tuesday.

African Union and Somali forces pushed Al Shabab militants out of Mogadishu in August. The forces are now trying to take control of areas outside of Mogadishu.

“Our main effort lies in fighting the terrorism,’’ Brigadier Paul Lokeck of Uganda told reporters visiting the front line.

“The enemy has been fleeing toward Merca’’ he said, referring to a coastal town in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region.

Abdikarim Yusuf Dhagabadan, chief of Somali armed forces told reporters that his forces are giving civilians a chance to pack their belongings and flee. That advice directly conflicted with a statement from the African Union force in Mogadishu, which encouraged people in the corridor to remain in their homes.

Union forces said its troops are avoiding entering camps around the main road to Afgoye.

The operation to move into Afgoye began on Tuesday.

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