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Former Somalia militants recall cruelty, betrayal

Somalia military officials say defections from the militant group al-Shabab are accelerating as Somali and African Union troops take new territory around Mogadishu.

Militants who abandon al-Shabab risk retaliatory assassinations from fighters still loyal to the militia. A government-run program in Mogadishu houses several hundred former fighters, many of them teenagers. The program provides meals, housing and courses on patriotism, anti-violence and religion.

Defector Mohamed Saeed, 18, said militants didn't dare share plans about defecting with even their closest battlefield friends. Trust, he said, could get you killed.

As al-Shabab has lost its profit centers — the markets in Mogadishu the militants once taxed, for example — life on the battlefield became harder. Saeed said fighters often ate only one meal a day.