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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 March 2007, 05:00 GMT 06:00 UK
Somali violence 'worst in years'
A wounded Somali woman is given assistance by a relative
The number of wounded and killed is unknown
The Somali capital Mogadishu is being wracked by the worst fighting in 15 years, with dozens killed and thousands fleeing the violence, aid agencies say.

Fighting resumed on Saturday for the third day, since Somali and Ethiopian troops launched an offensive against Islamist insurgents.

Ethiopia said it had killed 200 rebels in the course of the operation.

But civilians said the city was being shelled indiscriminately, and that bodies were lying in the streets.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the fighting was the heaviest in Mogadishu in 15 years, since the aftermath of the overthrow of Siad Barre in 1991.

I saw two of my neighbours get killed - I'm not going to stay here anymore
Mohamed Deq Abukar Aroni
Mogadishu resident

Since then the country has been torn by constant fighting. A rare six months of order imposed by the Islamists ended when they were ousted by Ethiopian troops in December.

One resident said that, despite the capital's violent past, he had never been forced to leave, until now.

"Today I'm fleeing because shells are hitting residential areas indiscriminately," said Mohamed Deq Abukar Aroni, carrying two mattresses on his head, while his children carried belongings in paper bags.

"I saw two of my neighbours get killed. I'm not going to stay here anymore," he told the Associated Press.

Helicopter hit

A doctor at Alhayat Hospital said the building had come under mortar fire, and two staff had been wounded.

"Since early this morning I have been hiding here from the mortar shells so I can't help rescue people. I urge the two sides to respect health facilities," Dr Mohamed Dhere told AP on Friday.

Smoke rising on the horizon in Mogadishu
Dozens of people died in heavy fighting on Thursday

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed for an immediate end to the fighting, saying in a statement he was "particularly concerned about the use of air strikes and the introduction of tanks and heavy artillery into densely populated parts of the city".

Ethiopia's information ministry said 200 members of the Union of Islamic Courts had been killed in the two-day offensive, but there was no independent confirmation of this.

Witnesses described how two Ethiopian helicopters fired on a rebel stronghold on Friday, before one of them was hit by an anti-aircraft missile.

"Smoke billowed from the cabin and it turned towards the ocean," Swiss journalist Eugen Sorg told Reuters.

"It crashed at the south end of the airport runway."

A spokesman for Ugandan troops, in Somalia as part of an African Union (AU) peacekeeping force, said they had recovered the bodies of two crew.

'Terrorist links'

Some 1,700 Ugandan troops are in Mogadishu as the advance party of an 8,000-strong AU force, which is supposed to replace the Ethiopian troops as they gradually withdraw.

Somalia's Interim Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Ghedi said the operation would continue in order to restore stability to Mogadishu.

"There are some insurgents in the city who have links with international terrorists and are fighting against the government and the people of Somalia," Mr Ghedi told the BBC Network Africa from the Arab League summit.

He said plans for the national reconciliation conference in April were under way and they have invited moderate Islamic scholars to the conference.


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Mogadishu and its residences are experiencing one the worst man made humanitarian crisis. Civilians are being bombarded indiscreetly. Rockets and mortars are landing on innocent people. Yesterday, I met Sheikh Mohamed, 70 years old disable man, as he was stuck at his home with no where to run. A tank shell landed on his home, killing his wife instantly and wounding his only daughter. The remains of his wife and the wounded daughter lay there for more than 24 hrs without receiving any help or chance to bury his deceased wife. Meanwhile , on the 2nd day an other rocket landed on the same house, killing his wounded daughter and badly injuring him. Mohamed's story is not unique, there are many similar stories through out the city. This is not just a war, but rather genocide.
Abdi Abdulle, Mogadishu, Somalia

No body can stay his/her home because of the heavy fighting going in Mogadishu between local Militia and Ethiopian Troops. I saw Ethiopians firing the fleeing people including old mums, kids and pregnant women, also the Somali militia are firing from among the civilians, so there is no safety place in Mogadishu these agony days of the worst war. This is unforgettable sadness in my mind, because I am wearying about my family's lives. I would say Allah may safe innocents in Mogadishu.
Mohamed Ali Madka, Mogadishu, Somalia




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
An Ethiopian helicopter shot down over Mogadishu



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