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Witnesses in Mogadishu Say Plane Likely Brought Down by Missile

In Somalia, a Russian-made cargo plane with 11 people on board crashed late Friday north of the capital, Mogadishu, after it took off from the city's main airport. Witnesses say it was most likely hit by an anti-aircraft missile. It is not known whether anyone survived the crash. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

The spokesman for the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, Ugandan army Captain Paddy Ankunda, tells VOA the cargo plane managed to fly away from densely populated areas of Mogadishu before crashing to the ground in flames.

Ankunda says he does not know the identities of those who were on board, but some of them may have been aviation mechanics from Russia or Belarus.

"It was an Ilyushin-76 and it was carrying technicians sent to repair one of the aircrafts that caught fire sometime last week," he noted.

A company in Belarus confirmed that one of its Ilyushin-76 cargo planes had been shot down in Mogadishu on Friday.

For Transaviaexport in Minsk, it marked the second time in less than two weeks that a plane owned by the company had been hit by insurgent fire at Mogadishu Airport.

On March 12, another Ilyushin-76 cargo plane made an emergency landing at Mogadishu Airport, after it was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

Nine crew members and six other people on board were unhurt, but the plane's fuselage was badly damaged.

Friday's crash came at the end of a particularly violent week in the Somali capital. Dozens of people, mostly civilians, were killed in clashes between Ethiopian and government troops protecting the interim government and gunmen opposed to their presence in the city and the interim government.

About 1,500 African Union troops from Uganda are in Mogadishu to stabilize the city.

Defying repeated Islamist threats to carry out a guerrilla war against them, the Ugandans arrived earlier this month as the vanguard of African Union's proposed 8,000-member peacekeeping force.

But daily attacks had kept them mostly pinned down inside their base at Mogadishu Airport.

Captain Ankunda says the arrival of armed personnel carriers and tanks in recent days is already helping the peacekeepers move out and conduct limited patrols.

Friday marked the third straight day of clashes between insurgents and Ethiopian troops in some parts of the city, but Ankunda says African Union peacekeepers did manage to secure one of the most dangerous areas of Mogadishu known as Kilometer Four.