Somalis mourn relief worker

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TWO HUNDRED Somalis marched in the southern town of Kismayu yesterday in protest at the murder of a British aid worker, as US marines appeared to take a tougher line against gunmen in the capital, Mogadishu.

The march in Kismayu, reported by the UN Children's Fund, involved elders, intellectuals and women's leaders who presented a letter of condolence for the murder on Saturday of Sean Devereux, 28, Unicef's officer in charge in the area.

US marines fired on and pursued several gunmen yesterday after they drew sniper fire in the northern sector of Mogadishu. Col Fred Peck, the marines' spokesman, said that while the US mandate had not changed, 'we are going to shut down the operations of these thugs who are terrorising their fellow Somalis'.

Previously, US military spokesman have stressed that the mission of the US-led intervention forces, which yesterday totalled 29,000, was to secure airports and ports and provide security for food convoys to famine victims in Somalia's interior.

The US military appeared embarrassed by the murder of Devereux in Kismayu, a strategic port town that the marines and elite Belgian paratroopers had secured three weeks ago. The US has dispatched military investigators to look into the murder. The gunman who shot him has not been caught and there is suspicion that the assassination was linked to Devereux's comments to foreign journalists about the massacre of up to 100 people by gunmen loyal to the main warlord in the area, Col Ahmed Omar Jess, days before the marines' landing.

Col Jess is currently in Addis Ababa with other leaders of Somalia's main factions to attend a UN-sponsored meeting to set up a full peace conference later this year. The meeting, presided over by Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, was called to set an agenda and the time and place for a conference of national reconciliation.

Somali and international observers hold grave doubts about the conference's success, however, because of intense hostility to the UN by some of the Somali factions. In Addis Ababa, the meeting fell into disarray yesterday, with shouted arguments and insults punctuating the factions' failure to agree on procedure for a reconciliation conference.

WASHINGTON - The US is about to step up efforts to collect heavy weapons from armed factions in Somalia in a bid to wrest power from warlords who dominate the country, special envoy Robert Oakley said yesterday, Reuter reports.