'US forces kill 9' as Somalis try to storm embassy

MOGADISHU - US troops in Somalia yesterday killed at least nine people during rioting by supporters of the warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed, witnesses said. The troops shot dead protesters who tried to storm the US embassy in Mogadishu.

But as the rioters threw stones and chanted anti-American slogans in the worst violence since international forces landed in December, United Nations officials went ahead with two-day talks to prepare for a national reconciliation conference next month.

'I counted three bodies, including the teenager killed in morning clashes in the city,' said a Reuters Television cameraman, Mohamed Shaffi, who briefly ventured into the Somali capital, which echoed with gunfire throughout the day.

A Somali driver, Abdi Aden Ibrahim, who attempted to drive to the US embassy but was prevented by hundreds of angry Aideed supporters trying to storm the building, quoted Somalis there as saying at least six people had been shot by US forces. 'Most of the people I spoke to said they saw six people shot dead near the US embassy compounds. The people were trying to storm the building.'

There was no independent confirmation of the reported deaths. Farouk Mawlawi, a UN spokesman, told Reuters that he had no details of casualties.

Aid sources in Nairobi, in contact with Somalia by telephone, said the rioting had closed Mogadishu airport, the hub of a relief operation to stop 1 million Somalis dying from starvation. US embassy and military officials were all unreachable, as reporters could not travel to the besieged building or anywhere else because of the violence.

Mr Aideed's supporters, angered by alleged US support for the rival militia chief Mohamed Siad Hersi Morgan, fought running street battles with US troops.

But Mr Mawlawi remained optimistic about peace talks, saying that representatives of Somali warlords meeting in his office made it clear that the rioting would not disrupt talks about the agenda for a 15 March conference in Addis Ababa. 'Fortunately for us the Somalis have made it clear to us that (the violence) is directed against the Americans and US-led coalition forces,' he said.

The violence followed battles in the southern city of Kismayu on Monday between forces of an Aideed backer, Omar Jess, and his rival, General Morgan.

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