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Heavy mortar fire rocks Somali port as AU tanks arrive

by Mustafa Haji Abdinur

March 19, 2007

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MOGADISHU (AFP) - Mortar shells crashed onto Mogadishu's port on Monday, triggering heavy fighting between insurgents and Somali troops, as military hardware arrived by sea for African peacekeepers.

The artillery duel, which killed at least two people and wounded six others, came hours after Somali and African Union troops from Uganda had secured the port in southern Mogadishu ahead of the arrival of the military equipment.

The pair was killed when a mortar hit their house in Hamel Jejab neighbourhood, next to the port, witnesses said.

"A mortar shell landed in a house nearby and killed a mother and her daughter," Sara Sheikh Hussein, a neighbour told AFP. "It also wounded two other people."

Meanwhile, Abdulkadir Mohamed, a resident of nearby Howlwadag village reported four casualties after a mortar crashed into his house.

"It wounded my mother, my sister and two other people who were with us," Mohamed told AFP.

Residents said several houses had been destroyed in some of Mogadishu's heaviest mortar fire in recent weeks, but the AU reported no casualties.

"Nobody from the AU force was injured from the shells, but our doctors are currently treating some wounded children," captain Paddy Ankunda, spokesman for the Ugandan force, told AFP.

Ankunda confirmed that military hardware which left Uganda early March by rail for the Kenyan port of Mombasa, had arrived by sea in Mogadishu.

"The equipment that we have been expecting from Mombasa by sea has finally arrived. It is military equipment that includes tanks. It is now safely in the seaport," Ankunda said.

"There are many tanks in this shipment."

Some 1,200 Ugandan troops already in Somalia and billeted at the airport have been awaiting the tanks in order to carry out patrols in the violence-wracked Somali capital.

Somali forces and their US-backed Ethiopian allies have been battling an increasing insurgency since they drove out a powerful Islamist movement from south and central Somalia in January.

The Ugandans are part of a proposed 8,000-strong AU peacekeeping force for the Horn of Africa nation aimed at enabling Ethiopian troops to leave and Somali forces to take over.

Hundreds of Somali troops and dozens of Ugandans deployed around the port early Monday, while nearby roads were closed off and two helicopters circled the area in a bid to boost security around one of the most targeted facilities in the lawless capital.

The Ugandans were the first AU troops to deploy, amid violent attacks, in Mogadishu. A further 300 Ugandan troops are still expected to arrive.

Violence in the coastal capital, the scene of almost daily attacks, has increased around the port since Sunday, when one civilian was killed and 11 wounded in a series of incidents.

Late Sunday, government troops had fired towards boats at sea.

Meanwhile, in the southern port town of Kismayo, police chief Major Abdi Mohamed Abdulle was shot dead Sunday by one of his own bodyguards.

The AU mission is the first international peacekeeping venture since United States troops led an ill-fated, UN-backed peace operation in the early 1990s.

But so far, the AU has managed to raise only around half of the required 8,000 troops. As well as Uganda's 1,500 troops, Burundi has offered 1,700 troops and Nigeria 850, while Malawi and Ghana are also expected to contribute.

Insurgent groups have vowed to attack the latest peacekeepers.

Source: AFP, Mar 19, 2007

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