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Helicopter Shot Down in Somalia

30 March 2007

In the Somali capital, Mogadishu, insurgents shot down an Ethiopian helicopter on Friday, as vicious fighting continued for a second day against an Ethiopian-led security crackdown in the city. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

For the second time in a week, the spokesman of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Mogadishu, Captain Paddy Ankunda, confirmed the crash of an aircraft near the capital city's main airport.

"We can confirm it was brought down, but we do not know how," said Ankunda. "We are trying to secure the ground where it crashed. It was near Mogadishu International Airport."

Witnesses say they saw the Ethiopian attack helicopter getting hit by ground fire, just before it fell out of the sky and exploded. Last Friday, a cargo plane, carrying aviation experts and technicians from Belarus, crashed after being similarly hit during take-off. All 11 people on board were killed.

Both aircraft are believed to have been hit by anti-aircraft missiles.

Sources in Mogadishu tell VOA that two other Ethiopian helicopters were hit by small arms fire on Thursday, but they were able to fly back to base.

Friday's crash came amid intense fighting that began on Thursday, after Ethiopian troops in tanks and helicopters launched a major security sweep of insurgent strongholds in the city.

Insurgents in Mogadishu are thought to be mainly from the dominant Hawiye clan, who oppose Somalia's Ethiopian-backed interim President Abdullahi Yusuf and his government.

Hawiye clan members accuse the leader, among other things, of using his long-time ally, Ethiopia, to weaken and sideline the Hawiye in favor of his own clan, the Darod.

A Hawiye clan member in Mogadishu, Sheik Hassan Osman, tells VOA that the battles have spread to more areas of the city because many more Hawiye men, angered by Ethiopia's aggressive push to disarm the city, have taken up arms.

"It is not fighting between Hawiye and Darod, but militias from Hawiye and Ethiopian troops," he said. "All towns [are] fighting now."

VOA has learned that in recent days, hundreds of Hawiye fighters have been pouring into Mogadishu from other regions of Somalia.

It is estimated that Ethiopian troops, who helped the interim government take power from Somalia's Islamic Courts Union three months ago, are facing nearly 15,000 fighters or potential fighters in Mogadishu. Sources tell VOA that number could double in the coming days.

Aid workers in Mogadishu say hundreds of people have been killed and wounded in the past two days. But many of the wounded cannot get to a hospital because of the fighting.

Hundreds more are reportedly fleeing the city, adding to more than 40,000 of its residents who have left since early February because of escalating violence.

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