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Somali gunmen murder Irish nurse

MOGADISHU - Gunmen killed an Irish nurse yesterday when they attacked a convoy of cars taking her to a new assignment in Baidoa, one of the Somali towns at the centre of the famine region.

Valerie Place, 23, of the Irish charity Concern, threw herself to the car floor when gunmen opened fire on the convoy near Afgoi, 32km (20 miles) west of the capital, Mogadishu. 'Wendy Murphy, a nurse who was with Valerie, said Valerie threw herself to the floor of the car when the shooting started. But more shots were fired on the car as they tried to escape,' said Aengus Finucane, Concern's chief executive, who was in Somalia on a visit.

Ms Place was the second foreign aid worker shot dead in Somalia since January, when gunmen killed Sean Devereux, a Briton who worked for Unicef, in the southern port of Kismayu. Earlier yesterday Ms Place had shown the world heavyweight boxing champion Riddick Bowe around Mogadishu, where he is on a brief visit.

Speaking to Irish state radio from Baidoa, Michael O'Reilly, a spokesman for Concern, said: 'This had been on the cards for some time. A number of people have got shot dead on that same road in recent weeks. These are literally bandits. There are no organised attacks. They are maybe five or six gunmen who jump out in the road in front of the car and start firing shots.'

Meanwhile in Kismayu at least seven people were killed and 21 wounded yesterday in five hours of fighting between Somali militias, the US military command announced. The US military spokesman, Colonel Fred Peck, said the multinational force led by the United States had imposed an overnight curfew in the city. 'Fighting is now over,' he told a news conference. 'It is definitely a setback for peace in the region.'

Col Peck said the fighting was between supporters of Omar Jess, a former army officer who controls Kismayu, and about 150 infiltrators loyal to another warlord, General Mohamed Siad Hersi Morgan, the son-in-law of the former dictator, Mohamed Siad Barre. 'Large numbers of Somalis have fled the town to the north. The armed men who came into the town have disappeared,' he added. 'Our (US) reconnaissance forces picked up Morgan's forces outside the city at about 1am. They were sent to search for them but did not find them. Apparently Morgan's forces had disappeared into the town.'

Col Peck said the fighting had put back plans to hold a ceremony today to transfer command of the city to 650 Belgian troops from about 1,000 US troops.

The US soldiers are going home and the Pentagon plans to transfer control of the 22-nation force to the United Nations in the next few weeks.

(Photograph omitted)