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Gunmen Kill 5, Mortars Injure 4 In Restive Somali Capital
MOGADISHU Jan 26, 2007— Gunfire and mortar attacks in Somalia’s capital killed five people and injured at least four in the latest violence as powerful Ethiopian troops withdraw from this chaotic African nation, witnesses said Friday.
An Associated Press reporter saw five bodies in open areas of the city with gunshots to their chests.Four mortar attacks overnight injured four people, including a 3-year-old girl, said Mohamed Bad Mushani, a witness.
The motive for the attacks was not clear, but Mogadishu has long been one of the world’s most violent cities.
Police Commissioner Ali Mohamed Hassan Loyan told The Associated Press the attackers were "hell-bent on undermining the security of the country. The police will track them down."
Somalia has been increasing security this week as Ethiopian troops, whose military strength was crucial to helping Somalia’s government drive out a radical Islamic militia, begin withdrawing from the country. It was not clear when the withdrawal would be complete.
The withdrawal of Ethiopia, which says it cannot afford to stay in Somalia, raises a sense of urgency for the arrival of a proposed African peacekeeping force. The African Union has approved a plan to send about 8,000 peacekeepers for a six-month mission that would eventually be taken over by the U.N.
South Africa dashed hopes Friday that it would contribute to a peacekeeping force in Somalia.
Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota feared that South African peacekeepers were already overstretched and that further deployments risked damaging existing operations, according to his spokesman, Sam Mkhwanazi.
Mkhwanazi said the country was instead studying whether there could be "other means and ways by which South Africa can support this mission in Somalia." South Africa has more than 3,000 peacekeepers deployed in various African trouble spots.
Nigeria , Malawi and Uganda have said they want to contribute troops, but no firm plans are in place.
Meanwhile, a Friday statement on the Islamic courts’ Web site, a Somali-language site called Qaadisiya, threatened countries considering sending troops here, saying Somalis must solve their own problems.
"Any country that sends troops will face a fierce war and would get its soldiers killed in a far-off field," the statement said.
Many Somalis resented the Ethiopian presence; their countries fought a war in 1977. But without Ethiopia’s tanks and fighter jets, the Somali government could barely assert control outside one town and couldn’t enter the capital, Mogadishu, which was ruled by the Council of Islamic Courts. The U.S. accused the group of having ties to al-Qaida.
Earlier this month, Ethiopian and U.S. forces were pursuing three top al-Qaida suspects but failed to capture or kill them in an AC-130 strike in the southern part of Somalia. A main target that time was Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, one of three senior al-Qaida members blamed for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The U.S. Navy also has had forces in waters off the Somali coast, where they have monitored maritime traffic, boarded suspicious ships and interrogated crews in an attempt to catch anyone escaping the Somalia military operations.
On Thursday, gunmen attacked Ethiopian soldiers at a busy market in the southern Somali town of Kismayo, killing one and wounding another and sending screaming residents fleeing the area, witnesses said. Forty people were arrested.
Kismayo, the third-largest city in Somalia, was the last major town held by the Union of Islamic Courts before the Somali government and Ethiopian forces took over.