Ethiopia mum on peacekeepers' withdrawal from Somali town

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Al Shabaab militants parade new recruits after arriving in Mogadishufrom their training camp south of the capital in this 21 October, 2010 file photo.

Al Shabaab militants parade new recruits after arriving in Mogadishufrom their training camp south of the capital in this 21 October, 2010 file photo.

WEB_PHOTO_SOMSHABAAB_08032016

Al Shabaab militants parade new recruits after arriving in Mogadishufrom their training camp south of the capital in this 21 October, 2010 file photo.

Al Shabaab militants parade new recruits after arriving in Mogadishufrom their training camp south of the capital in this 21 October, 2010 file photo.

MOGADISHU - Officials in Ethiopia were not available to comment on why a contingent of its troops serving as peacekeepers in Somalia, abandoned the town of Halgan in the Hiran region, allowing al-Shabaab fighters to capture the town.

Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabaab's spokesman on military operations said on Sunday that the group seized control of yet another town in central Somalia after it was abandoned by African Union peacekeepers, the third to fall to insurgents this month.

The reason for the peacekeepers' withdrawal is not clear.

READ:  AMISOM apologises for shooting dead a civilian in Somalia

A military offensive launched in 2014 by AU forces and the Somali army pushed out of major strategic centres, but the insurgents, who once held sway over much of the Horn of Africa country, still control some settlements and rural areas.

The fall of Halgan was confirmed by Dahir Amin Jesow, a member of parliament from the region, who said residents are being subjected to reprisals at the hands of the insurgents.

"Each day, civilians are being beheaded over suspicion that they are government supporters," he told Reuters. "We do not have a government that is effective enough to protect our civilians."

Somalia has been convulsed by instability, conflict and lawlessness since the early 1990s following the toppling of military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

Propped up by the African Union-mandated force known as AMISOM, Somalia's military and central government have strengthened their grip on the country but a relentless campaign of violence by al Shabaab persists.

The group regularly attacks AMISOM's troops, which is made up of about 22,000 soldiers and police from African nations supporting Somalia's government and army.

READ: Amisom struggles with resources in Somalia

Al Shabaab aims to drive out the peacekeepers, topple Somalia's Western-backed government and impose a strict version of Islamic law.