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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Is Ethiopian The Super-Power of East Africa?

Mogadishu - Artillery fire rocked Mogadishu for a third day on Saturday as Ethiopian and Somali troops backed by helicopter gunships resumed a major offensive against the Council of Islamic Courts and clan militiamen.

Scores of civilians have been killed in what the International Committee of the Red Cross says is the capital's worst fighting for more than 15 years.

Ethiopia says its forces have killed 200 rebels since the assault started.

"I have been here 16 years and never seen anything like this," Salado Yebarow, who lives between the main stadium and the presidential palace, told Reuters.

A barrage of mortar rounds began landing before dawn, she said.

"The whole city is being shelled indiscriminately."

In a statement late on Friday, Ethiopia said its military had killed more than 200 "armed remnants" of the Islamic Courts, ousted from Mogadishu in a war over the New Year. Many others were wounded, it said.

Hospitals were overwhelmed with injured civilians, doctors said, but most victims could not reach any kind of help.

Tens of thousands of people have fled the city this month.

As the battles intensified on Friday, insurgents shot down an Ethiopian helicopter gunship with a missile.

Ugandan peacekeepers pulled two dead crew from the wreckage.

Yebarow said neither side seemed to have any concern for the families caught in the crossfire.

"Whoever is doing this is not human. They have clearly never had a grandmother or children to think about," she said, as children shrieked in the background.

Her elderly, disabled neighbour Awrala Adan said she was cowering behind furniture in a corner of her small home.

"I've lost faith in this world to help us now," Adan said.

Somalia's envoy to Ethiopia told reporters on Friday that the attacks were only targeting insurgent strongholds where local elders had failed to convince the rebels to disarm.

Many analysts say Addis Ababa seems bent on obliterating the insurgents and their clan militia allies, who have been emboldened by recent strikes, including the downing of a plane serving an African peacekeeping mission.

But experts say it could have the opposite effect - turning Mogadishu's people against their Christian-led neighbour or drawing in foreign Muslim jihadists.

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