Al-Shabaab Islamists have taken the key Somali port city of Merca for the second time in 48 hours, officials said Sunday.
“The town has changed hands several times between our troops and the militants,” local official Mohamed Hussein Shine said.
Al-Shabaab initially took Merca, located at 90 kilometres south-west of Mogadishu, after Somali and African Union troops withdrew from the city on Friday.
The allied troops retook the city on Saturday, but pulled out again for unknown reasons.
Al-Shabaab re-entered the port city late Saturday, the group said on pro-insurgent radio Andalus. Witnesses said they saw al-Shabaab hoist its flag in downtown Merca on Sunday.
Somali and AU troops were "ready to move into Merca any time soon,” Shine said.
The loss of Merca, thought to have been founded as early as the 7th century, had been regarded as a heavy blow to government and AU troops, which have suffered several major attacks from al-Shabaab in recent months.