UN forces pound Somali warlord's lair

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UNITED NATIONS forces launched further air and land attacks on a Somali warlord in Mogadishu early today. They struck before the city's gunmen had begun to recover from the impact of an earlier assault yesterday.

Troops from 11 nations took part in the first raids, bombing weapons stores and a radio station and rounding up gunmen. Two Somalis were killed when soldiers fired on a demonstration.

This morning, the capital was rocked by gunfire as US AC-130 'Spectre' gunships pounded the compound of General Mohamed Farah Aideed with fire from howitzer 105mm cannons.

Yesterday's United States-led assault came shortly before dawn, one week after 23 Pakistani UN troops were killed in an ambush blamed on the forces of Gen Aideed. In a show of crippling force, AC-130s strafed his radio station and ammunition stores.

A 1,200-strong quick reaction force from the US Army's 10th Mountain Division led a sweep through the city. They rounded up 200 gunmen, including one of the senior commanders of Gen Aideed's Somali National Alliance (SNA). Helicopters dropped leaflets asking residents to remain calm and hand in any weapons.

The Special UN envoy, US Admiral Jonathan Howe, said Gen Aideed would have to 'co-operate with our investigations. He must tell us who committed these crimes, who ordered them.' Admiral Howe said the radio station was destroyed but was not beyond repair and would be handed back to the Somali people.

Demonstrators took to the streets after the attack, but dispersed when UN troops fired into the crowd, killing two people. There were no UN casualties in the day's fighting. Since the UN took over peace-keeping operations on 4 May from the US-led force that landed in December to protect famine relief convoys, it has been challenged by the general, who used the radio station to attack the UN presence.

Shortly before the US planes lit up the sky with flares, the station broadcast what was probably its last message before it was attacked: 'We can see flagrant aggression and bullying against us.'

Admiral Howe, in a broadcast to the Somali people, said the UN operation was 'a success that destroyed most of (Gen Aideed's) heavy weaponry'. The weapons included tanks, rockets, guns and armoured personnel carriers. Admiral Howe said their destruction marked the start of a country-wide programme: 'Disarmament has started in earnest. It . . . must be done and it will be done.'

Some aid workers feared an angry backlash. 'I'm sure there'll be retaliatory activities from the Somali people,' Jamie McGoldrick, of Save the Children Fund, said. UN staff and relief workers have been evacuated by the hundreds to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, closing down relief centres and leaving countless Somalis hungry once again.

President Bill Clinton said yesterday that the action was intended to send a clear message to armed Somali gangs against provoking 'terror and chaos' and should strengthen the credibility of UN peace-keeping. Forces from the United States, France, Pakistan, Turkey, Norway, Morocco, Egypt, Kuwait, Italy, the United Arab Emirates and India took part in the operation.

Perils of peace-keeping, page 12