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Radio station at focus of dispute is leveled

The Mogadishu radio station controlled by warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid was demolished by American AC-130 flying gunships Saturday morning.

"Aidid will never be able to use this station again," said a Pakistani soldier, kicking over the rubble. "The blows were devastating."

The station, which often aired anti-United Nations broadcasts, was the flashpoint for the showdown between U.N. troops and Aidid.

Twenty-three Pakistani peacekeepers were killed in the Somali capital a week ago Saturday. The troops were cut down returning from an arms dump inspection in what the U.N. says was a carefully conceived ambush.

Aidid, the self-styled president-in-waiting and chief tormentor of the U.N., said the peacekeepers tried to capture the radio station and that 89 Somalis were killed and 350 were wounded in the attempt.

Shortly before dawn Saturday, the U.S. planes _ gun-mounted versions of the slow-flying C-130 cargo aircraft _ reduced the station to rubble in a sustained 45-minute attack of pinpoint accuracy.

Italian and American helicopter gunships continued to fire in the vicinity of the radio station, presumably at snipers who have taken pot shots at peacekeepers all week.

Further on the outskirts of the city, near an abandoned cigarette factory where the Pakistanis were attacked, huge clouds of black smoke billowed into the bright sky.

The source of the smoke was not easy to ascertain but residents said an arms dump, where heavy weapons were stored for inspection, was nearby.

Light armored tanks, brilliant white _ the U.N. livery _ took up positions on street corners in sweltering heat.

The radio station was destroyed in what U.S. officials said was the first phase of an operation to bring to justice the killers of the Pakistani peacekeepers.

Stunned Somalis looked on from street corners. They have lived with war for more than two years, and Saturday's raids did not appear to phase them, only the gunmen.

"The message has been well received," said a Turkish soldier serving with the 20,000-strong U.N. force. "They now know we mean business."

"I've never seen Somalis so frightened since we landed in December," said an American officer. "Today's operation has put the fear of God into them."

There was no sign of Aidid, last seen by the Western media at his residence Friday when he appealed for peace and blamed last Saturday's slaughter on the U.N.

On Friday night, shortly before the American-led U.N. force lit up the sky with flares, Aidid's radio station, a vehicle for his Somali National Alliance (SNA), broadcast what was probably its last message.

"The SNA would like to see the restoration of stability, but we can see flagrant aggression and bullying against us," it quoted Aidid as saying.

Ironically, as a step toward easing the tension, it said Aidid had proposed that private radio stations, such as his, be subjected to U.N. supervision to avoid creating "instability."

"We are still awaiting answers to all these issues," Aidid complained.