US launches new air strikes on Somali warlord: Mogadishu echoes to sound of bombing hours after aid officials told it was safe to return and resume relief work

MOGADISHU (Agencies) - In the early hours of this morning Mogadishu echoed once again to the sound of air attacks by American AC-130 'Spectre' aircraft. After three night- time assaults last weekend, the plane's 105mm guns and rapid-fire cannon again attacked targets around the south Mogadishu headquarters of General Mohamed Farah Aideed.

UN troops turned a searchlight on Gen Aideed's house and asked people inside to come out with their hands up having thrown down their weapons. There was no response and the attack was then renewed.

The attacks have been in retaliation for the deaths on 5 June of 23 Pakistaini UN peace-keepers who, according to the United Nations, were ambushed by Aideed partisans. The raids have triggered strong anti-US and anti-UN feelings in some parts of the Somali capital and have provoked violent confrontations between demonstrators and Pakistani troops. In one incident 14 Somalis died when Pakistani peace-keepers opened fire on protesters.

A US Navy flotilla carrying 2,200 Marines and helicopters is steaming southwards in the Indian Ocean but no order has been given to send the force to Somalia, defence officials said yesterday. The ships, including the helicopter assault ship Guam, were pulled out of the Persian Gulf last week and ordered to stand by in the Strait of Hormuz for possible movement to reinforce UN forces in Mogadishu. The Guam carries attack and troop-carrying helicopters which could be used to support UN forces and US aircraft which have carried out the attacks against the forces of Gen Aideed.

'They are now moving southward in the ocean, but no decision has been made on whether to move them to Somalia,' said one defence official. If such an order is given, said another official, the task force could reach the shore of country this weekend.

Earlier yesterday trucks trundled out of the port of Mogadishu, apparently signalling a resumption of relief operations halted a week ago to pave the way for the UN raids. Three trucks, cheered by a large crowd of Somalis, ferried 90 tons of food relief to the northern part of Mogadishu for distribution to feeding centres which closed last week after aid workers were evacuated to Kenya. An official of the UN's World Food Programme said relief operations would resume soon in the southern part of the city.

Yesterday, seven relief agencies were set to reopen their offices in the Somali capital. Their return was announced on Tuesday after a meeting with the UN special envoy to Somalia, Admiral Jonathan Howe, who diplomats said assured aid agencies there would be no more military strikes to punish Gen Aideed.

A US soldier has been charged with assaulting two Somalis, one of whom he allegedly electrocuted on the genitals with telephone wires, UN military officials announced yesterday. The officials said Staff Sergeant Anthony Varga, 39, from Arizona, had been accused of illegally detaining and assaulting Ahmed Macalin and Mohamed Abdi Madey on 26 May in Baledogle, about 50 miles north-west of Mogadishu.

Varga is still serving in Mogadishu with the 516th Signal Company, 86th Signal Battalion, 11th Signal Brigade, under UN command.