Cargo Plane Shot Down in Somalia

By Mohamed Olad Hassan
Associated Press
Saturday, March 24, 2007

MOGADISHU, Somalia, March 23 -- A huge cargo plane that had delivered equipment for Ugandan peacekeepers in the Somali capital was shot down by a missile during takeoff Friday, the owner of the plane said. A witness said the aircraft crashed in flames after one of its wings fell into the Indian Ocean.

The fate of the 11-member crew was unknown.

Egi Azarian, acting head of Transaviaexport, confirmed that one of the company's planes had been shot down Friday. Transaviaexport, based in Minsk, Belarus, operates only Ilyushin-76s, one of the largest cargo planes in the world.

Capt. Paddy Ankunda, spokesman for the Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia, said he did not know the nationalities of the crew members or whether they had survived. But he added, "We are afraid that they have gone."

Muse Sheik Osman, who lives in northern Mogadishu, said he saw the burning plane come down and had heard the sound of an antiaircraft missile being fired shortly before the crash.

Muse Hassan, another resident, said, "One of the wings fell in the ocean, and smoke was coming from the bottom of the plane."

The crash came at the end of a particularly violent week in Mogadishu. Dozens of people were killed, most of them civilians, in fighting between Islamic insurgents and government troops backed by Ethiopian forces.

The violence ebbed Friday as a truce took effect between military officials from Ethiopia and elders of the Hawiye, the dominant clan in the capital.

Meanwhile, Kenya deported to Somalia more than 100 people from 19 countries who had illegally crossed the border during fighting this year. The deportees were subsequently arrested by Ethiopian troops, a human rights group said Friday.

On Thursday, Somali intelligence officials ordered the satellite television network al-Jazeera to close its Mogadishu office, said Abshir Mohamed, the station's head of administration. Said Information Minister Madobe Nunow Mohamed: "Al-Jazeera has conveyed the wrong messages to the world."

Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991. The current administration has failed to assert control throughout the country, and the African Union has deployed a small peacekeeping force to defend it.

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