Ethiopian refugees die in Somali violence

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The Independent Online
THE GUNFIGHT only lasted 30 minutes but it was eternity for three Ethiopian refugees living with several hundred others at the abandoned Polytechnic school on the edge of Mogadishu airport.

'They were sleeping here. This is where they died,' Osman Abdul Mohammed, a camp resident, said yesterday, pointing to bloodstains on the dusty cement floor. An artillery shell fired the night before by UN forces stationed in the airport had crashed through the ceiling of a warehouse where the refugees were sleeping.

Mohammed Ayub, Hakima Ali Mohammed and Asha Hassan Mohammed were in bed when firing broke out at about 9pm between Somali gunmen behind the refugee camp and Pakistani troops serving with the United Nations. Though frightened, the squatters were used to the sound of automatic weapons, as is anyone who has lived in Mogadishu for the past several years. War, the Ogaden conflict, had driven them out of Ethiopia's Wabeshebelle river basin in the late 1970s, and since then they had lived off international aid at camps.

'We were always very friendly with the Pakistani soldiers,' said Mr Abdul Mohammed. 'They thought there were Somalis with guns in here because someone was shooting from behind, but there were no gunmen here.' At least one shell from a 106mm recoilless rifle crashed through the roof, killing one instantly and mortally wounding the other two.

Major David Stockwell, military spokesman for the UN operation in Somalia (Unosom), said the incident was caused by fighting between rival Somali factions spilling over into the airport. He reported it as another routine event in a week in which Somali fighters loyal to General Mohammed Farah Aideed, the fugitive warlord, killed three Italian soldiers, wounded another 21 and routed elite Italian paratroops in six tanks and 15 armoured vehicles. In the same week, the UN compound was repeatedly fired on and an Italian tank blew up a bus full of Somali gunmen.

The refugees at the Polytechnic have joined a growing number of civilians caught up in the daily street battles between militiamen and Unosom forces since 5 June, when clashes between Somali gunmen and UN troops left 24 Pakistanis dead and the special UN envoy, Jonathan Howe, issued a warrant for Gen Aideed's arrest.

There is no sign that Gen Aideed's mainly Habr Gadir clan militia is about to give up, however, as the rout of the Italian soldiers searching for arms near the old pasta factory on 2 June amply demonstrated.

'Word went out that they were not just searching for weapons but were also humiliating people. Everyone mobilised and began grabbing any weapons they could find: guns, knives, sticks,' said Hassan Ahmed Beile, a militiaman who fought the Italians in Huriwaa. 'Men, women and children surrounded the armoured personnel carriers and the soldiers started firing volleys into the air. Everyone just decided that to survive they would have to fight.'