Somali Government ‘Liberates’ Seven Towns on Kenyan Border

Somali government forces have “liberated” seven towns close to the Kenyan border from the control of the al-Shabaab militia, enabling refugees to return home, Somalia’s ambassador to Kenya said.

The Dadaab refugee complex in northeastern Kenya houses 350,000 refugees, almost four times the number of people the three camps were originally designed to accommodate.

More refugees are arriving in Kenya every day to escape renewed fighting in Somalia over the last month, the east African nation’s president, Mwai Kibaki, said on March 31.

“If these towns are liberated and if we go on to liberate towns we believe that the people, the refugees who are in these camps, will go back to their houses,” Ambassador Mohamed Ali Nur told reporters today in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. The Somali government took back control of Doolow, Bulo Hawo, Luuq, Elwaaq, Dhoobley, Diif and Taabdo in the last few days, he said.

Somalia’s government led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is fighting insurgents including the al-Shabaab movement, which the U.S. accuses of having links to al-Qaeda. Somalia has been without a functioning central administration since 1991, when ruler Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted.

The Horn of Africa country is facing its worst humanitarian crisis since the early 1990s because of the conflict and drought in the region following the failure of the rainy season between October and December, Nur said. Water is in short supply and grain prices are rising with the south-central part of the country hardest hit, he said.

Somalia’s Council of Ministers decided in February to levy a “drought tax” on the salaries of politicians and civil servants. Cabinet ministers pay $500 a month, lawmakers $100 a month and government workers have 5 percent of their wages withheld to help pay for relief efforts, he said.

Somalia is also appealing for foreign assistance.

“Unless emergency aid gets to those in need soon, I fear we will see a staggering death toll,” Nur said.

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