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Ethiopian Helicopters Fire on Somali Insurgents in Mogadishu


After several days of relative calm, heavy fighting resumed in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. Battles between Ethiopian troops and insurgent fighters have reportedly killed and wounded dozens of civilians. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has the latest from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

The violence broke out soon after Ethiopian tanks rumbled through several neighborhoods in southern Mogadishu.

The Ethiopians, together with Somali government troops, launched the early-morning security operation in an apparent bid to crack down on a three-month insurgency that has kept Somalia's Ethiopian-backed interim government from gaining full control of the capital.

The neighborhoods are thought to be strongholds of insurgents, who are believed to be made up mostly of supporters of Somalia's ousted Islamic Courts Union and disgruntled militiamen of the locally-dominant Hawiye tribe.

Government Interior Minister Mohamed Mahmud Gama Dheere says the insurgents, who did not have enough firepower to confront Ethiopian tanks and artillery, fought back with hit-and-run attacks.

"They are not fighting face-to-face, just throwing some mortars and hiding themselves," he said. "They are using small arms and so on."

In a telephone interview with VOA, a Somali journalist, Mohamed Amiin, described what he heard and saw as the fighting spread to the north of the city.

"You can hear very deafening sound of artillery, and also we can see helicopters firing in some areas of the capital," he explained. "People are very scared, very worried."

Amiin and other eyewitnesses tell VOA that at least two Ethiopian helicopters fired missiles into insurgent neighborhoods in northern Mogadishu. Somalia's interior minister said he could not confirm those reports.

Meanwhile, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said two-thirds of his troops from Somalia have been withdrawn, since they helped Somali government troops drive the Islamists from power three months ago.

The prime minister did not say how many Ethiopian troops are remaining in Somalia. But he said a full withdrawal has been delayed, because not enough African Union peacekeepers have been deployed in Somalia to take over from the Ethiopians.

The African Union has sent about 1,500 troops from Uganda to help pacify the country. But they, too, have been the target of violent insurgent attacks.

Analysts say the threat of more violence in Somalia is likely to prevent other African countries from quickly sending troops.