UN troops poised to capture warlord: US-led peace-keeping forces in Somalia locate Aideed and loyal supporters in Mogadishu 'safe house'

MOGADISHU - United Nations forces were preparing yesterday to seize the fugitive Somali warlord, General Mohamed Farah Aideed from a hideout in Mogadishu, UN military sources said.

Twenty-fours hours after UN troops stormed and destroyed his military stronghold, Gen Aideed was reported to be hiding with a group of his most loyal followers in a 'safe house' in the bombed-out capital. UN military sources, who declined to be indentified, said they would move in and arrest him before long 'in a way that will minimise civilian casualties'.

Meanwhile, a veteran soundman for French television, Jean-Claude Jumel, 50, was shot dead in Mogadishu yesterday and a Somali employee of another French station was killed the previous day, their employers said.

The UN special envoy to Somalia Jonathan Howe declined to say how long he believed it would take before Gen Aideed was in custody, saying he did not want the arrest to derail other UN activities in the city.

'We did not want to confuse the effort to arrest Aideed with the military operation. First of all we want him to come forward peacefully,' Mr Howe said. 'He has never beeen a target of the military operation.'

Mr Howe said Thursday's operation to break Gen Aideed's military power, which began with an aerial bombardment of his weapons' stores, was 'totally successful'.

UN military officials said they were unable to give details of civilian casualties. Hospitals say more than 60 Somali civilians were killed and more than 100 injured in the battle to neutralise Gen Aideed.

Mr Howe said he had told Lieutentant General Cevik Bir, the Turkish commander of UN forces in Mogadishu, that it 'was important to detain Aideed for public safety'. He said an investigation into the deaths of 23 Pakistani peace-keepers on 5 June was still continuing but 'that and subsequent events' had already unearthed enough evidence to point the finger at Gen Aideed.

He said that Gen Aideed would receive 'a fair and impartial trial', but that the details of how this would take place remained to be decided.

Mogadishu's streets were calm yesterday, lashed for much of the day by torrential rain. Few UN troops were visible and, for the first time in several days, there were no reports of sniper fire in the city.

A UN military official said five UN soldiers - four Moroccans and one Pakistani - died in Thursday's fighting, which erupted after UN forces sealed off Gen Aideed's stronghold.

In New York, the UN Security Council yesterday deplored deaths of civilians in Somalia, which it said were perpetrated by factions attacking UN peace- keepers. In a statement, the Council condemned the practice of some Somali factions 'using women and children as human shields to perpetrate their attacks'.

(Photograph omitted)