34 Somalis Hurt as Mortars Hit Near Mogadishu Hospital

From Times Wire Services

Two mortars struck just outside Mogadishu's largest hospital Saturday, wounding 34 Somalis, doctors said. Four mortars also hit the U.N. compound, slightly wounding an American soldier.

The mortars were fired after U.S. Army Rangers raided a suspected military staging area for militiamen of fugitive warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid.

U.N. military spokesman Maj. David Stockwell said the mortars that hit the sprawling U.N. compound were believed to be revenge for the raid, but it was unclear who fired the shells that struck the grounds of Digfer Hospital.

During the raid, helicopter-borne soldiers threw stun grenades at three photographers and reporters, chasing them away from the action.

The journalists accused the soldiers of trying to block coverage, but a U.N. military spokesman insisted the troops were only trying to keep the journalists away from the military operation to ensure their safety.

Witnesses said the mortars at Digfer Hospital came from the direction of the U.N. compound, but Stockwell said that he believed no mortars were fired by U.N. forces. He said the shells may have come from Aidid's forces and gone awry.

Also Saturday, military officials announced that the United States is sending 40 combat engineers to Somalia to find and clear land mines.

The troops are from the 24th Infantry Division at Ft. Benning, Ga., a Pentagon spokesman said. They will join about 5,100 U.S. soldiers on duty with U.N. peacekeeping forces.

The engineers are expected to leave for Somalia sometime between Wednesday and Sept. 26, a Ft. Benning spokeswoman said.

In Saturday's raid, Ranger troops charged from helicopters and searched a garage owned by Osman Atto, a chief supporter of Aidid. Stockwell refused to say if the raid was aimed at arresting Atto, who apparently left the area just before the soldiers arrived.

Aidid's militia has been blamed for attacks that have killed 47 U.N. peacekeepers since May. A unit of 400 elite U.S. Rangers were sent in August to try to seize the militia leader.

Eight suspected militiamen were seized during the raid, along with a submachine gun, Stockwell said.

Photographers Peter Northall of Associated Press and Abdelhak Senna of Agence France-Presse and reporter Sam Kylie of the Times of London said soldiers on the helicopters threw small stun grenades at them as they tried to cover the raid.

Stockwell said he considered the action appropriate to keep the journalists out of the troops' way.

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