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Peacekeepers Suffer First Casualties In Somalia

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Some of the first AU peacekeepers from Uganda in Mogadishu

Mogadishu, Somalia, March 8, 2007 – At least nine Somalis were killed when a rocket fired at African Union (AU) troops hit a restaurant in an ambush that inflicted the first casualties on the peacekeepers, officials said on Thursday.

The attacks late on Wednesday were the second straight day of assaults against the Ugandan troops, the vanguard of an AU force that was targeted from the moment it landed in the coastal capital on Tuesday.

Fighters who have carried out near-daily assaults against the interim government and its Ethiopian allies for the past two months had threatened the AU troops with attack.

But as has been the case all along, civilians bore the brunt.

A rocket-propelled grenade aimed at an AU armored car missed and instead blasted apart a restaurant.

"The place was littered with human limbs," said one local, who was standing outside and gave his name as Mohamed.

Two other people were killed in that clash, but it was not clear whether they were fighters or civilians.

The Ugandans immediately faced the same kind of treatment that forced a well-funded U.S.-U.N. peacekeeping mission to quit Mogadishu in 1995, bloodied and humiliated by relentless attacks from well-armed Somali militiamen.

"We suffered two minor injuries. We fired in the air to scare them and that is how we managed to drive through," AU mission spokesman Capt. Paddy Ankunda said.

The fighters, who are thought primarily to be fighters from an Islamist movement routed from the city in December in a joint Somali-Ethiopian blitz, view the Ugandans as government allies -- and therefore targets.

The Islamist movement had already threatened any foreign peacekeepers with attack, saying they were merely tools of foreign occupation like the Ethiopian troops they are supposed to replace in helping the government secure the country.

The Ugandans were first targeted in a series of mortar strikes that hit their base at Mogadishu's international airport just hours after they landed on Tuesday.

The Ugandans are the first peacekeepers to set foot in Mogadishu -- one of the world's most gun-infested cities -- since the U.S.-U.N. mission ended.

The AU force is supposed to help President Abdillahi Yusuf's government extend its shaky authority over a country mired in anarchy since dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre was toppled in 1991.

None of the 13 other attempts at government since then has succeeded.

As with a peacekeeping operation in Sudan's Darfur region, the AU faces a shortage of money and equipment.

Nigeria , Ghana, Malawi and Burundi are also expected to send troops, but pledges so far make up only about half of the required 8,000 soldiers.

It was not clear how the reception given the Ugandans would affect troop deployments and contributions from other countries.

Source: Reuters

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