Somali football stadium: African Union urged to leave

African Union troops at Mogadishu Stadium The stadium is strategic to guaranteeing security in the north of Mogadishu

The Somali Football Federation (SFF) has asked African Union troops to vacate the national stadium so it can be used again for sports events.

Mogadishu Stadium was immediately occupied by militia when the civil war began in 1991 and has been a base for various armed groups over the years.

An SFF official told the BBC the request was made on an official visit to inspect the stadium on Tuesday.

The security situation in Mogadishu has improved over the past year.

The African Union (AU) force and Somali government army drove the al-Qaeda-aligned al-Shabab group from the capital in August 2011.

Correspondents say although there are still occasional attacks since the militants withdrew, people have been reconstructing shattered buildings across the battle-scarred city.

There has also been progress on the political front with the election by MPs of a new president last month.

Football banned
Map

SFF secretary general Abdiqani Said Arab told the BBC Somali service that he visited the stadium along with the officials from the sports ministry.

He said they formally requested that the stadium, an impressive sports complex when it was built by the Chinese in the 1970s, be returned to its intended use.

During the visit the delegation also assessed the damage, discussed a plan as to how the AU troops could leave and considered the earliest date the facility could host football matches once more.

But analysts say the stadium is important strategically for controlling the north of the city - and the AU may not want to give it up yet.

Occasional matches have been played at the Mogadishu Stadium over the years, however it has always been in the hands of an armed group.

Al-Shabab, which has banned the playing and watching of football in its territory, has lost all the major towns it once controlled over the last few months.

But the militants still controls large areas of southern and central Somalia.

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