MOGADISHU, Somalia — A gun battle erupted near Mogadishu airport Saturday night hours after a visiting U.S. envoy said U.N. peacekeepers were restoring order to the battered city.
U.N. troops and Somali gunmen traded fire close to the airport run by the peacekeeping force and the roundabout in south Mogadishu where it is headquartered, residents said.
The exchange lasted about 10 minutes. Rocket-propelled grenades were launched, presumably by gunmen attempting to hit U.N. positions, the residents said.
The U.N. soldiers fired flares to light up their attackers, and helicopter gunships searched over the area. It was not known if there were casualties.
Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, earlier played down a month of violence in which 34 peacekeepers have been killed.
"The story in Somalia is that peace is being restored, and that is not a story that is being told," she told a news conference after a one-day visit.
Albright, who was scheduled to leave before night fell, warned Somalia's warlords to "get their act together."
At the fortified U.N. compound, she said the "blue helmets" could capture the man blamed for the violence, Mohammed Farah Aidid, when they wanted.
Aidid's Somali National Alliance issued a statement accusing the United Nations of being a tool of Washington and calling for the withdrawal of U.N. troops "since the mandate of the U.N. has switched to an American-led war in Somalia."
It also called for a negotiated settlement to the violence and praised Italy for doing the same after it suffered its first fatalities in an ambush Friday that killed three Italian soldiers and wounded 30.
Albright said: "Obviously there are serious problems that need to be solved here in Somalia. But that is to be expected when the U.N. is undertaking an administrative, political and military task of this magnitude."
The ambassador arrived in Mogadishu from the port of Kismayu, where she met in an aircraft hangar with elders who are trying to negotiate an end to violence there.
She dismissed suggestions that the U.N. operation is hostage to the violence, which has killed dozens of Somalis and forced the evacuation of scores of aid workers.
The United Nations deserves credit for ending a famine that killed 300,000 people, arranging talks to set up local councils and ending fighting elsewhere in the country, she said.