NEW fighting erupted yesterday in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, during the second day of a major United Nations assault aimed at shattering the military command structure of warlord Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed.
Pentagon sources said yesterday the United States was preparing to send about 200 infantrymen, bolstered by tanks and armored vehicles, to Somalia.
UN military officials confirmed that at least five US peacekeepers were killed Sunday in the early stages of the fighting. One Malaysian soldier also was killed and nine wounded, the Defense Ministry in Kuala Lumpur said.
After the worst fighting in Mogadishu since 24 Pakistani troops were killed in an ambush June 5, the debris of battle lay scattered over several square miles. Crowds of looters picked over the burned-out wreckage of two US helicopters and of at least seven vehicles, including four UN armored personnel carriers (APCs).
Three of the city's hospitals overflowed with at least 500 Somali wounded, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in Nairobi, Kenya.
``We were going after Aideed's military lieutenant structure,'' said Maj. David Stockwell, the chief UN spokesman in Mogadishu. ``We did not expect to find Aideed.''
Clashes erupted just before dusk Sunday when UN peacekeeping troops made another attempt to capture some of General Aideed's aides.
Two US Black Hawk helicopters were shot down by ground fire, a UN statement said. About 70 US Army Rangers sent to pick up wounded crewmen then came under fire. A rescue force of two US infantry companies and a Ranger platoon, 24 Malaysian APCs, and four Pakistani tanks and two APCs rushed to the scene.
The UN statement said 24 Aideed aides were arrested in the search operation, including three key members of his faction's militia. Major Stockwell said three of the Somali detainees died of wounds sustained in the shooting that broke out as they were being led out of the area where they were captured.
US troops arrived in Somalia last December to help the East African nation recover from famine and anarchy that killed more than 350,000 Somalis in 1992. Roughly 4,000 US troops are still in the country.
President Clinton has said the US must not waver from its commitment to help erase ``brutality and anarchy,'' in Somalia, but he is coming under heavy pressure from Congress to change its policy.
Egyptians voted yesterday in a referendum on a third term for President Hosni Mubarak. But voters did not rush to the polls because of the lack of choice: The incumbent ran unchallenged.
Police tightened security to ward off the prospect of attacks by Islamic radicals, who have carried out a two-year campaign of violence in an attempt to replace the secular government with Islamic rule.
The vote also took place amid increasing popular dissatisfaction with the stagnant economy and 20 percent unemployment.
Government critics charged the vote was unfair. Parliament must approve any candidate, and control of the legislature by Mr. Mubarak's National Democratic Party ensured he was the only nominee.
Cairo's three government-run dailies, the most-widely read among Egyptians, devoted their front pages almost entirely to the president. Thousands of posters and banners urging Mubarak's re-election have been put up around the country. Vans with loudspeakers delivered the same message yesterday on the streets of Cairo.
Mubarak's third term is scheduled to begin Oct. 13. He took office in 1981 after President Anwar Sadat was assassinated. Only 18.9 million of Egypt's 59 million population are eligible to vote, partly because many people never register.
No violence had been reported at press time. But a policeman was killed and a second officer and six militants wounded in two weekend clashes.