updated 12/23/2007 11:18:45 AM ET 2007-12-23T16:18:45

Insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles attacked an Ethiopian army base in northern Mogadishu, triggering a deadly nighttime clash that sent stray mortar rounds crashing into homes, residents and witnesses said Sunday.

At least five Somalis were killed and eight wounded in the crossfire, they said.

Meanwhile, a first contingent of 100 Burundian peacekeepers deployed in the capital, joining 1,800 Ugandan troops in an African Union force that is still well short of the personnel strength needed to help restore order.

In the overnight attack, fighters struck a former factory being used as a base by troops from Ethiopia, which is allied with Somalia's U.N.-backed government in its battle against Islamic insurgents.

The Ethiopian troops used tanks and artillery to repel the attack, residents said.

"My elder brother was hit by a stray mortar as he was sleeping and died on the spot," said Ali Dhagey.

Four other people were killed by stray mortar rounds at various locations, said Hussein Osman, who lives near the base, adding that the two sides exchanged heavy machine gun fire for at least two hours.

Yahye Ali, a resident in the nearby Huriwa neighborhood, said the latest attack was the heaviest fighting in the city for weeks.

Hospital staff said at least 8 people were wounded in the overnight fighting. "Some of the victims were in dangerous condition," said Faduma Hussein, a nurse at Medina hospital.

There was no news on casualties among the attackers. Mohamed Omar Habeb Dhere, mayor of Mogadishu, told a local radio station that one soldier from the government side was slightly wounded.

Early Sunday, Somali government soldiers and their Ethiopian allies moved into the area in search of weapons and the attackers.

Deadly year
Thousands of Somalis have been killed in fighting this year between Islamic insurgents and Ethiopian troops supporting shaky Somali government forces. The Islamists vowed to fight an Iraq-style insurgency after the Ethiopians dislodged them from power one year ago. They had taken control of the capital and much of southern Somalia.

The Burundian peacekeepers arrived Sunday, said Paddy Anakunda, a spokesman for the Ugandan peacekeeping force. The African Union has said it wants to deploy 8,000 peacekeepers in Somalia, but countries have been slow to come forward with troop contributions.

Burundi is one of several nations that pledged to help beef up the force.

In a separate incident, authorities in the semiautonomous region of Puntland said a Spanish aid worker employed by the Danish Refugee Council was being deported for facilitating the unauthorized visit of a French journalist who was kidnapped a week ago.

Cameraman Gwen Le Gouil was seized Dec. 16 outside the town of Bossaso in Puntland, an area associated with coastal piracy and known as a staging post for human traffickers running boats into nearby Yemen. His abductors are demanding a ransom.

The Frenchman "entered Puntland illegally and contacted gangs involved in illegal human smuggling with the help of the aid worker," said Abdirahman Mohamed Bangah, information minister of Puntland.

"These are the reasons why authorities ordered the Spaniard to leave. The French reporter will be tried for illegal entry to Puntland after his release," the minister said.

Puntland officials have said talks aimed at securing the journalist's release have been going well and that they expect him to be freed soon.

The arid Horn of Africa nation has had no functioning government since 1991, when clan leaders overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other. The conflict between the U.N.-backed transitional government -- which is seen by many Somalis as corrupt and ineffective -- and the Islamists is complicated by a web of clan loyalties and the involvement of Ethiopia, which supports the government, and its archenemy Eritrea, which has offered support to Islamist forces.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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