Amid fierce fighting in Mogadishu, African Union peacekeepers are said to have directly intervened to help beleaguered Somali troops for the first time. Guarding key sites like the presidential palace, the 4,300-strong AU force generally tries to avoid being drawn into clashes with Islamist insurgents. But it is believed the peacekeepers responded when their positions came under threat. At least 40 Islamists are reported killed in the clashes, including a foreign fighter.Somali forces spokesman Farhan Asanyo said: “It is our responsibility to defend both our people and the country from enemy foreign fighters. We will continue fighting until we defeat them.” Since Ethiopian troops ousted an Islamist regime in Somalia in late 2006, at least 18,000 people have died in violence. Hundreds of thousands more have had to flee from their homes. As is often the case, civilians are bearing the brunt of the latest fighting.