Somali government officials said on Saturday that they have regained the full control of the two southern regions of Bay and Bakool after heavy fighting with Islamist fighters.
Somali police spokesman Colonel Abdulahi Hassan Barise said that government forces backed by Ethiopian troops killed several fighters after the troops engaged in fierce fighting with them forthe past two days.
"We have removed the anti-peace elements in the regions which are now fully in our control," Col. Barise told reporters.
However, for his part Sheik Muqtar Robow Abu Mansuur, spokesman for the al-Shabaab insurgent group which has been active recently in southern Somalia, said his forces have repulsed the allied Ethiopian and Somali government forces.
Abu Mansuur said, "Coming to a town and leaving it does not amount to controlling it. I have even been to Baidoa overnight."
He said his fighters have "inflicted heavy losses" on the Ethiopian and Somali government troops in their latest offensive to regain the control of the strategic districts that lay on the road linking Baidoa to the Ethiopian border. The road is an important supply line for Somali government forces.
Witnesses said that a number of civilians have been killed in the fighting including a local UN security guard after Somali government troops opened fire on an airfield in the southern Wajid district.
The airfield is run by the UN Humanitarian Air Service and is used by staff of UN agencies in the region. Somali government officials have not so far commented on the killing of the UN security worker.
Islamist fighters have reportedly withdrew from Wajid as advancing government troops went close to the town.
The latest offensive, the biggest of its kind in recent months in the south of the country, came as the Somali transitional government and a main opposition faction are due to sign a ceasefire in neighboring Djibouti where a last round of peace talks opened on Saturday.