Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ethiopian offensive spurs deadly violence in Somali capital

AFP picture by Mustafa Abdi.
Smoke rises in the horizon above the Towfiq neighborhood in Mogadishu. Seven Ethiopian soldiers have been killed in Mogadishu, and two of their bodies dragged through the streets amid heavy fighting sparked by an Ethiopian offensive against insurgents.

MOGADISHU (AFP) — Seven Ethiopian soldiers were killed on Thursday in Mogadishu, and two of their bodies dragged through the streets amid heavy fighting sparked by an Ethiopian offensive against insurgents.

Dozens of men and women pulled the bodies of two soldiers in the street, shouting "We will kill the Ethiopian troops", while five other bodies in Ethiopian uniforms lay on the ground in the southern district of Shirkole.

They were the first Ethiopian soldiers reported killed in Mogadishu since Somali-Ethiopian troops drove out Islamists from the capital three months ago.

The scenes echoed deadly violence last week, when angry crowds burned the bodies of two dead Somali soldiers and dragged another through the streets.

In the early 1990s similar treatment was meted out to US troops during a failed UN-backed peace operation in Somalia.

Loudspeakers on Thursday transmitted calls for residents to come out and fight the Ethiopian troops backing Somalia's interim government, after the Ethiopians launched a heavy offensive in tanks and helicopters.

As the fighting continued, AFP correspondent witnessed a plane leaving Mogadishu airport with around a dozen wounded Ethiopian soldiers on board. The same plane had brought in around 60 Ethiopian soldiers on Thursday morning.

Ethiopian helicopters dropped deafening bombs and fired heavy machine gun fire in the first airborne attacks since the start of the year.

An AFP correspondent saw helicopters fire missiles near the Ethiopian forces' base in the former Somali defence ministry headquarters -- a common target for insurgent attacks.

A thick cloud of black smoke also rose up from fighting around Mogadishu stadium and helicopters fired rockets near the main Bakara market.

"The idea is to clear Mogadishu of gunmen," an Ethiopian diplomat in Somalia told AFP, requesting anonymity.

"The military operation will continue until all the objectives are fulfilled. We are urging the people of Mogadishu to stay at home, not to panic or join attacks against the Ethiopian troops," he said.

"The military operation will immediately cease when there are no gunmen and troublemakers in that part of Mogadishu," he added.

Five people died after being brought wounded into Medina hospital, out of a total of 130 injured there, bringing an earlier death toll to 15.

AFP picture taken by Jose Candon.
Helicopters of the Ethiopian army arrive at Mogadishu's airport. Ethiopian helicopters fired missiles on southern Mogadishu on Thursday as heavy fighting across the Somali capital left 10 people dead in an offensive against insurgent fighters.

The fighting mainly took place in the south, but there were also attacks in Mogadishu's Ramadan district in the north of the city.

At least 10 civilians were killed caught in crossfire in earlier fighting, which shattered a shaky six-day ceasefire with the powerful Hawiye clan, which has largely controlled the Somali capital since 1991.

As his troops fought in Mogadishu, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told parliament in Addis Ababa that he had withdrawn two-thirds of his forces from Somalia.

"As the situation in Somalia unravelled differently than expected, we had to withdraw troops gradually in two rounds. Hence, two-thirds of our troops have been withdrawn so far," Meles said in a speech to parliament.

"Our mission was to destroy the fundamentalist threat posed on us and we have succeeded in achieving this."

Islamists who ruled southern and central Somalia for six months from June last year had threatened to attack neighbouring Ethiopia.

But Meles said a second round of withdrawal had been delayed because the African Union's deployment of peacekeepers has not taken place "as desired."

AU troops plan to take over from Ethiopian forces to allow them to withdraw but have yet to make their mark in the volatile Somali capital as only 1,500 Ugandan troops have been deployed.

The AU force is supposed to number 8000 but only 4000 have been committed. The Uganda troops are the only ones to have been deployed.

The government last week announced a crackdown on Islamist insurgent fighters in a bid to bring calm to the capital ahead of a national reconciliation conference set to start mid-April.

Dozens of people have died and thousands of residents have fled Mogadishu since the start of the year.

A bloody power struggle that followed the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre exploded into inter-clan warfare that has defied more than 14 attempts to restore a functional government in Somalia

Source: KeepMedia.

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