Appeals for Calm Amid US Denials of Somali Shootout

UNITED States forces and supporters of Somali warlord Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed both appealed for calm here on Feb. 1, though they were in disagreement about a shooting incident that left about eight Somalis dead.

The US military has rejected accusations by Bangladeshi peacekeepers in Somalia that US Marines were to blame for the Mogadishu shootout on Jan. 31 .

The US liaison office in Mogadishu defended the shootings, saying the Marines returned fire in self-defense, an explanation disputed by some eyewitnesses.

``This is a terrible accident which is always going to happen as long as the streets of Mogadishu are crowded with guns,'' said Stevenson McIlvane, an official.

He said a US convoy of diplomatic cars escorted by Marines in military vehicles was fired upon by two gunmen as it drove from the US Embassy to the United Nations-controlled airport. ``I am convinced the convoy was fired upon by two gunmen and the Marines did what they are trained to do - fired back,'' he said.

But not everybody agrees with this interpretation of events, and there is still some confusion as to who fired the shots first. Some Somali eyewitnesses and Bangladeshi peacekeepers, stationed at the traffic circle where the shootout erupted, said the first shot was fired by the Americans.

Bangladeshi Maj. K.G. Haider said his men saw nobody shoot from the crowd, but he could not rule out that shots were fired at the Americans. However, he said, the first firing he noticed was from the Americans.

The shooting was the first serious clash between US troops and Somali gunmen since a cease-fire declared in October by militiamen loyal to General Aideed and the UN peacekeeping troops. But militias are rearming and taking control of bases abandoned by departing Western forces.

``People are very angry. You can surely expect a response at some stage,'' said taxi driver Issa Abdi Hassan. ``The feeling on the streets is that Americans are deliberately shooting Somalis to revenge the deaths of their colleagues who were killed in October.''

Eighteen US soldiers were killed in October in battles with militiamen that changed US policy on Somalia and forced President Clinton to order a withdrawal of US troops by March 31.

About 3,000 US troops have so far left, and the nearly 5,000 remaining troops will leave by March 27, military officials say, in a pullout that spurred Western allies to decide also to leave.

UN military officers have said the UN troops will increasingly be attacked by gunmen seeking to test the resolve of the remaining troops as the Western withdrawal picks up momentum.

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