Dozens of corpses litter Mogadishu after battles

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MOGADISHU, Nov 9 (Reuters) Corpses were scattered on Mogadishu streets today as Ethiopian forces backed by tanks and artillery sought to crush Islamist-led insurgents.

Residents and Somali media said more than 40 people had been killed in the capital since yesterday, including eight civilians who died on Friday when an Ethiopian mortar bomb blew up in the sprawling Bakara Market, littering the area with body parts.

Twelve more bodies, including two women, lay in an insurgent stronghold in the north of the city -- a district where rebels dragged dead Ethiopian soldiers along the roads yesterday.

''Some of the dead civilians were identified by relatives,'' Mohammed Abdullahi, a resident of the Sqa Holaha neighbourhood, told Reuters by telephone. ''Some are still lying here.'' In a move likely to dismay the interim government as it and its Ethiopian allies battle the Islamist-led insurgents, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday that sending UN peacekeepers to Somalia was neither realistic nor viable.

Insecurity had prevented the world body from even sending a technical assessment team, he said.

The Somali administration has long called for UN troops to help it stamp its authority on the Horn of Africa country. It is the 14th attempt to forge central rule in Somalia, which has been in chaos since 1991 when warlords ousted a dictator.

NO UN FORCE With Ethiopian support, the government chased hardline Islamists out of the capital at the start of this year, but has since faced an Iraq-style rebellion of roadside bombings and assassinations.

In the latest fighting, Ethiopian infantry and tanks pounded insurgent positions in the city, while the rebels responded with automatic gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades.

Shabelle, an independent local broadcaster, quoted residents accusing the Ethiopians of indiscriminately shelling some of the city's most densely-populated areas. It said at least 43 bodies were found today in areas that were hit hard yesterday.

Aid workers say hundreds of thousands of residents have left Mogadishu this year, fleeing violence that has made delivering humanitarian relief there all but impossible. About 1.5 million Somalis need emergency aid, the United Nations says.

Earlier this year, the African Union (AU) agreed to deploy 8,000 troops to replace the Ethiopians, but so far only 1,600 Ugandan soldiers have arrived. After several delays, a similar number of Burundians are set to deploy later this month.

Yesterday, Ban urged AU nations who had pledged troops to the current force to deploy them as quickly as possible.

But his conclusion that it was unrealistic to send UN peacekeepers angered Mogadishu's dominant Hawiye clan, many of whose members resent the presence of their old enemy Ethiopia.

''We accuse human rights organisations and the United Nations of keeping silent about the massacres the Ethiopians are committing,'' Hawiye elder Mohammed Hassan Haad told Reuters.

''We are unhappy with their decision not to send troops to Somalia, just when our country needs them most.'' REUTERS RKM RAI1942

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