For the ordinary Somalis, there is no place to hide: The UN blitz is making enemies of the people. Karl Maier in Mogadishu reports

A GREY-BEARDED man at the Digfer hospital mortuary slowly opened the door of a non-functioning freezer locker to reveal a corpse just delivered by a group of young men. They swore that the body had been thrown out of an American helicopter that morning, and had 'Made in the USA' branded on its arms.

In fact, the mark on the man's left arm was an old tattoo that said 'UAG', which no one could explain, and on his right was a crude dollar sign. In his stomach was a bullet wound, certainly the cause of death, which, given the state of the body, probably occurred during Thursday's shootout between the United Nations forces and supporters of the Somali warlord, General Mohamed Farah Aideed.

The wide gap between the fact and fiction of the corpse emphasises the yawning differences in perception that continue to define the Somali tragedy. What is said, rather than what is seen, is often taken as gospel.

At a pro-Aideed rally a few hundred yards away at a grandstand on October 21 Street, the story of the corpse being hurled from the air, branded 'Made in the USA', whipped up the already palpable anger at the United States and the UN operation in Somalia, known as Unosom. 'I will kill Bill Clinton,' said one young man. A chorus of Somali men chanted, 'We will catch animal Howe,' a reference to the special UN envoy to Somalia, retired US Navy Admiral Jonathan Howe.

'It is impossible for Admiral Howe to catch Aideed,' said a supporter of the General, Abdullahi Abdi Eilkas, 24. 'If they imagine to catch Aideed, there a lot of Americans are going to die.' One poster in English read: 'To arrest Aideed, one has to wade into a river of blood.'

UN forces have been searching for General Aideed, one of Somalia's most powerful warlords and military leader of the Habir Gedir sub-clan of the Hawiya people, since his arrest was ordered last week. The UN holds him responsible for the killing of 23 Pakistani soldiers serving with the 'blue berets' on 5 June.

The killings occurred after the UN soldiers appeared at General Aideed's radio station, source of constant anti-UN propaganda, ostensibly to search for weapons. The General's supporters said the troops were there to shut down the broadcasts.

'The news that the Pakistanis were taking over the radio spread through the markets, and the easiest place to retaliate was at the feeding centres,' a Somali man explained.

Officially, UN spokesmen have said they do not known where General Aideed is hiding, although the Pakistani commander, Brigadier-General Ikram Ul-Hassan, said on Friday that the warlord had been located. Some Somalis said yesterday that he was hiding in the maze- like Bakara market.

'We will support him until we die,' an especially angry 24-year- old student, Abdi Hassan Mahmud Ali, screamed. 'When we die, then maybe they can capture him, but not until we die.'

The mood of the crowd at the October 21 rally, about 5,000 strong, was defiant. They chanted, 'He will not be captured,' and, 'Long live Aideed, victory to Somalia.'

'We don't want Americans or anybody to tell us what to do. We want the American soldiers to leave us to our fate,' said Abdullahi Hassan Jama, 47. 'We don't want them to intervene in our internal affairs, we only want aid.' Crude mimeographed leaflets circulating among the demonstrators contained cartoons depicting US helicopter gunships, with 'US Air Force aid from USA' written on the side, dropping bombs on Mogadishu.

In the face of such hostility, the United States yesterday defended the actions of UN troops.

'What coalition forces have been confronting here is totally alien to the customs and mores of their home cultures, international law and the Geneva Convention,' the US liaison office in Mogadishu said. It was describing how a Pakistani officer, Capt Syed Riaz Manzoor, who was among the 23 who died, had been bayoneted repeatedly and 'eviscerated, his throat slit, his eyes gouged out'.

The statement came as US jets buzzed the city. The impact of shells fired by US helicopters in an earlier assault could be seen in the gaping holes in the facade of the Digfer hospital, Mogadishu's biggest and now heavily damaged medical facility.

Italian-trained Dr Mohamed Hussein 'Haji', Digfer's 42-year- old deputy director, said: 'Now I wonder who is going to rebuild this hospital for me? We have been running it on a voluntary basis for the past two and a half years, getting medicines from the NGOs (non-governmental organisations), with no salaries.'

Dr Hussein could not say whether gunmen had entered the hospital to fire on UN forces in the area. 'I heard shooting, the echo was coming from all around, but I did not see these gunmen,' he said. There were about 300 patients that day and, with 200 staff and relatives of the sick, nearly 1,000 people in the compound.

Dr Hussein said he had seen one patient killed, but knew of at least half a dozen more. 'If this hospital was in London, do you think they would shoot it?' he asked. 'No, they would go back, meet and discuss before taking such action. There is a different measure for us in Somalia than for the rest of the world. They are burying us here.'

Up in the surgery and orthopaedic wards, groups of men and women were sweeping up piles of broken glass and rubble left by the raid. In one orthopaedic ward, a huge pool of blood remained where one patient had been shot in the head by a machine-gun fired from a helicopter.

Hassan Shakar Abdi was having a shrapnel wound in his leg tended by Nassra Mohammed Iman, a 20-year-old nurse in traditional Somali dress.

'We were working in the hospital when they attacked,' Ms Iman said. 'There were wounded people being brought into the hospital from the fighting in the city, and it seems the UN forces thought they were gunmen. That is the only explanation I can give for the attack.'

The US Navy gave another display of its power yesterday, when several Harrier jump-jets screamed low over Mogadishu to announce the arrival of a new force of 2,200 marines, diverted from manoeuvres in the Persian Gulf.

Not all Somalis, however, oppose the firepower the UN forces have deployed in the past week. Many have suffered under General Aideed's Habir Gedir militiamen. Hassan Sheikh Ibrahim, a 50-year-old lawyer and a leader of the Rahawain clan, which has been persecuted by the Habir Gedir, said many Somalis appreciated the tough UN stance against the general, but opposed the bombing.

'It is important to create a secure environment,' he said. 'We always need UN intervention to help the Somalis solve their problems. But why do they have to do all this bombing? So many innocents are killed.'

The danger now, Mr Ibrahim said, was the reaction that was sure to come from the pro- Aideed militiamen. 'The militia still exists. They have blended into the people. Now everybody is waiting for the reaction.'

(Photograph omitted)

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