1. Archive

U.N. troops kill 14 protesters

Pakistani soldiers unleashed heavy gunfire on a crowd of Somali protesters again Sunday, killing at least 14 people, including children, and wounding 30.

And late Sunday night and early this morning, American AC-130 Spectre gunships launched another round of shelling, this time firing on an arms depot linked with warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, the alleged mastermind of ambushes that killed 23 Pakistani peacekeepers and wounded 59 others on June 5.

Dozens of blasts echoed through the night as the high-tech, four-engine planes began firing at their target in southern Mogadishu. The raid ended about 90 minutes later.

On Saturday, aircraft shelled a suspected weapons site belonging to Aidid's chief financial backer.

The protests and military strikes show the volatile nature of the city more than six months after U.S.-led forces arrived to try to restore order and protect relief efforts.

Earlier Sunday, the United Nations said it will continue its campaign against the warlord.

"We want to move on aggressively and disarm" Aidid's forces, Koffi Annan, the U.N. undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, said in New York after the second attack began.

Although tons of ammunition, tanks, artillery pieces and other military hardware were captured, U.N. officials acknowledged Aidid may have plenty more hidden away.

A witness said Pakistani soldiers appeared to open fire Sunday without provocation on a crowd of thousands of Aidid supporters at a traffic circle.

"These people were running, they were densely packed," said Toronto Star reporter Paul Watson. "I do not recall hearing a shot before the Pakistanis opened fire. They fired hundreds of rounds."

Among those killed was a 12-year-old boy and a 2-year-old boy, who was a half-mile from the protest. Officials at Digfer Hospital showed reporters seven bodies and said they had several more, but relatives refused to give the reporters access.

Later counts raised the death toll to at least 14.

Three bullets hit the side of a hotel across from the traffic circle. One of the bullets punched a hole in the hotel wall, narrowly missing an Associated Press reporter.

Brig. Gen. Ikram ul-Hasan, commander of Pakistani forces in Somalia, denied his men were seeking revenge for the ambushes and said Somali gunmen in the crowd fired first.

Ikram also said it was possible Somali gunmen used women and children as shields, as officials claimed they did during the June 5 ambush.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright said the Pakistani troops were apparently "defending themselves against armed attacks."

Shortly before dawn Sunday, dozens of rocket-propelled grenades were fired at Pakistani troops in another area of the city. The assailants were apparently Somalis.

With some 4,700 men, Pakistan has the largest U.N. contingent in Somalia. The Pakistanis are in charge of patroling Mogadishu, Somali's capital of 1-million people.

The U.N. currently has more than 18,000 soldiers in Somalia, including 4,000 Americans.

On Saturday, Pakistani soldiers fired at a group of stone-throwing demonstrators as they marched toward U.N. headquarters to protest the U.N. military operation. One man was killed and two women were injured.

The latest air assault followed a series of attacks before dawn Saturday on Aidid's radio station, three weapons sites and other targets _ the biggest single U.N. offensive since the Korean War.

There had been fears following the attacks of a backlash from supporters of Aidid, who holds the southern part of Mogadishu.

The first shelling Sunday, which continued for about 20 minutes, set off explosions on the ground, suggesting that an arms stockpile had been hit.

Private aid agencies near the scene reported by radio that the homes of Aidid and his chief financial backer, Osman Atto, apparently had been hit, along with a nearby weapons storage area.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kevin McGovern said the compound was in the middle of an Aidid stronghold.

"Our assessment is this was one of the most dangerous areas in the city," he said. "It's a veritable fortress."

But Atto claimed the area was a repair yard and spare-parts storage area. He said the spare parts alone were worth $12.5-million and said he would sue the United Nations and the United States for the cost.

And journalists found no evidence of military vehicles or arms.