Worst violence in 15 years continues in Somalia's capital

AFP , MOGADISHU

Sun, Apr 01, 2007 - Page 6

Heavy weapons fire broke out before dawn yesterday in the Somali capital Mogadishu, which is experiencing its worst fighting in 15 years.

After a brief lull since nightfall, detonations could be heard again at 2.30am as the Ethiopian army pressed its land and air offensive against insurgents for the third consecutive day.

"We don't know where to go. We are trapped in our houses and dead bodies are lying in the street," a resident in the southern Ali Kamin area, Ibrahim Duale told reporters.

"There is no chance of taking the wounded and dead people because of the heavy artillery and anti-aircraft weapons. It is still continuing and we cannot tell exactly the number of dead. I have seen at least seven bodies and they all lived in the neighborhood," he said.

Buildings have sustained heavy damage in the onslaught.

"The whole area is demolished, totally demolished," another despairing resident, Ali Hasan, said. "You can see smoke coming out of everywhere and people are confused. They don't have anywhere to run."

Fighting intensified on Friday as rebels shot down an Ethiopian helicopter gunship, killing the crew.

The Ethiopian government said late on Friday its army had killed more than 200 insurgents in Mogadishu since launching its offensive to support the struggling Somali government.

The death toll was the highest since the start of the year, when Ethiopian forces helped the Somali transitional government drive out the leaders of the Islamist movement controlling Mogadishu.

The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross deplored the high number of civilian casualties and described the fighting as the worst in more than 15 years.

The downing of the helicopter and the dragging of dead soldiers through the streets this past week carried dark echoes of a failed UN-backed US peace operation in Somalia in the early 1990s.