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Withdrawal of Islamic Insurgents a ‘Golden Opportunity,’ says Somali Government Official

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Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) says it is launching a program to stabilize the capital, Mogadishu, following the withdrawal of hard-line Islamic insurgent group, al-Shabab.

A spokesman for the group said its decision was a “tactical move” that would allow it to redeploy its troops to other parts of the country.

Somalia's Prime Minister, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, has called the pullout “a tremendous step forward” toward establishing a more stable country.

Government spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman said the administration’s ability to control the entire capital is a ‘golden opportunity’ for international humanitarian groups to provide aid to more people affected by the ongoing drought and famine.

Described by Washington as a terrorist organization with links to al-Qaeda, al-Shabab has vowed to overthrow the western-backed government and implement the strictest form of Sharia law.

Militants of the group frequently fight government forces and peacekeepers of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Until it relinquished its positions, al-Shabab controlled large portions of Mogadishu. Government officials said it will expand security to unarmed civilians, despite the militants’ threats to employ guerilla tactics.

“We have started a strategy to stabilize Mogadishu,” said Osman. “What we are planning is law and order [in] those new areas that have come under our control. We are also trying to put in [place] basic infrastructure [including] institutions [that] can provide basic services to our people.”

Among the areas receiving enhanced protection are the economic centers of the city.

“We have also planned [to provide security for] the big markets [including] Bakara in order to ensure that the business community [is] not subjected to insecurity or looting,” said Osman.

Al-Shabab barred some aid agencies from proving help to those living in areas under its control. It also accused the United Nations of using the famine as propaganda tool, an accusation both the world body and the TFG sharply deny.

Osman said it’s time for humanitarian aid agencies to move quickly to provide relief to Mogadishu and the rest of the country.

Article by Peter Clottey, VOA News