Baidoa hopes as troops search for Somali rebel remnants

Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:14pm GMT

* Al Shabaab left positions in the city on Wednesday

* Residents fear guerilla-style revenge attacks

By Mohamed Ahmed and Feisal Omar

MOGADISHU, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Ethiopian and Somali troops searched houses for lingering al Shabaab militants in the captured rebel stronghold of Baidoa on Thursday, said a regional official and residents hopeful of a new start.

The al Qaeda-backed militants suffered a significant blow when they surrendered the strategic city on Wednesday after columns of Ethiopian troops backed by tanks rolled through outlying areas.

"We were engaged in house-to-house inspections today. With the help of residents, we collected bombs, grenades and explosive devices," Abdifatah Mohamed Ibrahim Gesey, the governor of Bay region which includes Baidoa, told Reuters.

Ethiopian soldiers set up bases at the former government headquarters and at the city's airstrip, as well as checkpoints on the road leading southeast to Mogadishu.

Al Shabaab appear weakened as Ethiopian and Kenyan troops move on rebel strongholds in southern Somalia, but they must be routed from the port city of Kismayu, their main outpost, for any hope of a military victory, security analysts say.

Addressing a conference aimed at energizing attempts to end the anarchy in Somalia, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded greater efforts to cut funding for al Shabaab militants fighting Somalia's weak Transitional Federal Government (TFG).   Continued...

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