Saturday, March 31, 2007

Somalia Fighting Enters Second Day of Intensity; US-backed Military Helicopter Downed By Resistance

Heavy fighting continues for second day in volatile Somali capital

Mar 30, 2007, 8:51 GMT

Mogadishu - A barrage of shelling and gunfire continued in the coastal Somali capital on Friday, a day after Ethiopian-backed government troops scoured the city for insurgents using helicopters and tanks.

At least 30 people were killed on Thursday, Somali news agency Shabelle reported, in some of the fiercest fighting Mogadishu has seen since the transitional government seized the capital in late December.

The Ethiopian operation was meant to purge the city of militants - believed to be a combination of clan members and remnants of an Islamist group that ruled most of the country for six months.

Sounds of gunfire filled the air less than one week after the government and elders of the city's dominant Hawiye clan agreed to a ceasefire, which on Friday remained in tatters.

The government, attempting to assert its authority over the anarchic Horn of Africa country, has said it would try to pacify the capital before an April 16 EU-backed national reconciliation conference that is set to draw some 3,000 participants.

2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur

Ethiopian helicopter shot down by insurgents

Associated Press, THE JERUSALEM POST Mar. 31, 2007

Insurgents shot an Ethiopian helicopter gunship out of the sky and mortar shells slammed into a hospital during the heaviest fighting in the Somali capital since the early 1990s, leaving corpses in the streets and wounding hundreds of civilians.

On Friday, an Associated Press reporter saw an anti-aircraft missile hit an Ethiopian helicopter that had been bombing insurgent positions.

"The helicopter looked like a ball of smoke and fire before crashing," said Mogadishu resident Ruqiya Shafi Muhyadin, who watched as the helicopter rolled over in the sky and went down near the airport.

Dr. Mohamed Dhere, who spoke to the AP by telephone from an underground room, said three mortar shells hit Alhayat Hospital, wounding a doctor and a staff member.

Troops mutilated, burned in denunciation of Somalia govt.

Mar. 27- Back in late December, with US military and intelligence assistance, Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia to oust the ruling Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) who for six months had brought order to the country for the first time in 16 years.

Without producing any evidence, the US had insisted the courts, who had wrested power from CIA-backed warlords, were linked to al-Qaida. Backed by heavy US airstrikes, the Ethiopian forces managed to depose the UIC and install a weak interim government.

Since then, a small contingent of African Union peacekeepers were deployed to Somalia to relieve the Ethiopian forces who are despised by most Somalis. If this past week's events are any indication, the US/Ethiopian plan would seem to be quickly unraveling.

Somali civilians and masked insurgents burned the bodies of four soldiers, kicked them, pelted them with rocks and dragged the bloodied and half-naked corpses through Mogadishu on Mar. 21. It was one of the most violent days since the overthrow of the relatively popular UIC.

At least 34 people were killed in several hours of heavy fighting in the Somali capital, including at least four government troops and two Ethiopian soldiers. Several dozen civilians were wounded.

The bodies of two government soldiers and two Ethiopian soldiers were then hauled like grotesque trophies through the streets, a ritualistic expression of hatred for an increasingly unpopular government and the neighboring country supporting it.

The fighting began when Somali and Ethiopian soldiers entered southern Mogadishu seeking to consolidate the government's control. But hundreds of masked gunmen were waiting, and shooting raged for hours.

An insurgent group known as the Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations, which is linked to the UIC, claimed it was the target of the government offensive but said its fighters repulsed the attack.

One masked man, Abdinasir Hussein, said he dragged a soldier's corpse behind his motorbike. He said he wanted to show that Somalis will defeat the "invaders," referring to the troops from neighboring Ethiopia that helped government forces defeat the Islamic militia.

"I'm happy to drag an Ethiopian soldier on the Mogadishu streets," Hussein said.

The US ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, who also represents US interests in Somalia, condemned the bloodshed but said Washington believes things are better in Somalia.

"On balance we do feel that the situation in Somalia is moving forward in a generally positive way," Ranneberger told reporters in Nairobi, Kenya.

"The government should learn from today's defeat. Its soldiers were dragged through the streets," said Zainab Abdi, a mother of two children.

She urged the government to reach out to the leaders of the UIC, who are in hiding and promising to wage an Iraq-style insurgency.

"Otherwise, civilians will keep dying," Abdi said. "Who will the government rule if their people are killed every day?"

Ahmed Ali, a businessman who lives near the neighborhood where fighting broke out, said: "Today in Mogadishu, you cannot say a single word in support of the government. It's been three months now since the government gained control of Mogadishu, but since they arrived, they've been losing support of so many people."

The incident was the latest in weeks of persistent violence since the transitional government took hold, and a sign, some in the city said, of the growing popularity of an intractable insurgency on the streets of Mogadishu.

Besides the anti-government fighters, an angry crowd of civilians took part in mutilating the soldiers' bodies, Ali and other witnesses said.

Ali said women in his neighborhood have begun feeding breakfast and lunch to the insurgents, a group composed of fighters loyal to the UIC and militias belonging to sub-clans who say they feel disenfranchised by a government promising inclusion and reconciliation.

The next day, Somali intelligence officials ordered satellite television network Aljazeera to close its Mogadishu office. "Aljazeera has conveyed the wrong messages to the world," explained Information Minister Madobe Nunow Mohamed.

The following day, a cargo plane was shot down by a missile during takeoff after it delivered equipment and supplies for African Union peacekeepers. All 11 Belarusian crew members died.

A witness said the aircraft crashed in flames after one of its wings fell into the Indian Ocean.

On Mar. 27, the main road north from Mogadishu was closed by troops after two bombs exploded near an Ethiopian military base. A passing taxi-driver was killed after Ethiopian troops opened fire.

The UN estimates some 40,000 people have fled from Mogadishu since February.

Sources: Associated Press, BBC, Washington Post. Compiled by Eamon Martin (AGR) Photo courtesy

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