U.N. Ship Packed With Food for Somalis Refuses to Leave Kenyan Port on Piracy Fears

A ship carrying 850 tons of food to impoverished Somalis refused to leave a Kenyan port Monday because of piracy off Somalia's lawless coast.

Meanwhile, Islamic insurgents appeared to step up attacks in the capital of Mogadishu.

The shipping agency contracted by the U.N.'s World Food Program demanded the Kenyan government provide security for travel into Somali waters. On Saturday, pirates launched a failed hijack attempt on a food program boat, killing a Somali guard.

"We need some sort of security to ply into Somali waters ... because (Somali pirates) are everywhere. Now they are ashore, very far off into the sea. It is becoming too much," said Inayet Kudrati of the Motaku Shipping Agency. The ship had been scheduled to sail Sunday.

Saturday's attack was the eighth this year off the Somali coast, which is near shipping routes connecting the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean. A Kenyan government spokesman did not immediately return calls for comment.

The 1,880-mile Somali coast has become one of the most dangerous areas for ships.

Peter Smerdon, spokesman for the World Food Program, said he had no comment on the contractor's security arrangements as long as they were acceptable to Somali and Kenyan authorities.

Piracy is just one obstacle to humanitarian aid in a country battling an Islamic insurgency. Ethiopian troops backing Somalia's fragile government killed one person and injured another Monday after their convoy hit a land mine in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, witnesses said.

It was the latest in a series of explosions targeting convoys carrying government officials or troops. The government has blamed guerrillas, who have vowed to launch an Iraq-style insurgency until Somalia is ruled by Islamic law.

At the end of April, the government declared victory in battles against insurgents and Somalia's long-standing clan rivals. Battles in Mogadishu between March 12 and April 26 alone killed at least 1,670 people. Since February, 400,000 Mogadishu residents have fled violence in the capital.

Although the capital is relatively calm, sporadic violence has been deadly.

In Monday's attack on the Ethiopians' six-vehicle convoy, a land mine detonated in front of the first pickup truck, said witness Abdi Ma'alin, who was walking nearby.

"The explosion was so huge that it sent volumes of smoke into the sky," he said.

The troops opened fire in all directions soon after the blast, and controlled the scene for 15 minutes before they continued their journey, said another witness, Sahal Sheik, who sells sheep in a small market nearby.

Ma'alin said the Ethiopians arrested one person. After the Ethiopians opened fire, "I saw one civilian body lying on the curb, and another with blood on his shoulder running toward the residential neighborhoods," he said.

A day earlier, Mogadishu Mayor Mohamed Dheere said a bomb exploded near his convoy, killing at least two civilians. Dheere was unharmed, and his bodyguards shot and killed a suspected insurgent in a nearby tree.

"The remnants of the Islamic courts are behind this explosion," Dheere said Sunday, referring to the Council of Islamic Courts. The council seized control over much of southern Somalia last year before being driven out by government troops backed by Ethiopian soldiers.

Another bomb Thursday targeted the prime minister's convoy, but no one was hurt.

Also Monday, nine Egyptian fishermen who were arrested two weeks ago off the semiautonomous Puntland region of Somalia were released. The group had been charged with illegal fishing, Puntland's fishing minister told The Associated Press.

"We released them because we respect that they are Muslims," Said Mohamed Rage said.

Puntland, in northeastern Somalia, has escaped much of the violence that has plagued southern Somalia, but banditry and piracy are a problem.