MOGADISHU (Reuters) - At least 10 Somalis, among them refugees, were killed Friday during a firefight that broke out in Mogadishu when troops and residents looted truckloads of food meant for famine victims, witnesses said.
Government troops had opened fire and unloaded food aid onto wheelbarrows and minibuses and residents carried off sackloads of food on their shoulders shortly after a local aid organization began distributing food to thousands of Somali refugees.
The incident highlights the dangers facing aid groups struggling to operate in an anarchic country hit by years of drought and a never-ending cycle of violence.
The U.N.’s World Food Program, which said 290 tonnes of maize and oil had been available for distribution at the site, confirmed an incident had occurred at Badbaado, a squalid, makeshift camp that is home to some 30,000 refugees.
“At least 10 people died and 15 others were wounded,” Aden Kusow, himself a refugee, told Reuters from the camp.
“Seven of those died in the camp. The other three died outside as they fled. Most of those who died are refugees,” he said.
“MOUTH-WATERING FOOD AID”
Earlier another witness told Reuters he saw one dead soldier as he fled the camp with his three children when the shooting started.
“I’m lucky that my family is safe. I do not know where I’m heading to. I’m running for my life,” Aliyow Hussein, a 40-year-old father of three, told Reuters on a street outside the camp.
Some 3.7 million Somalis are at risk of starvation, the majority of them in the south, prompting hundreds of thousands to make the dangerous trek to Mogadishu and its outlying areas in search of food.
About 100,000 refugees have reached the capital in the last two months and hundreds more are streaming into the city every day, risking threats of attack by Islamist al-Shabaab militants who control most of the worst-hit drought areas.
Newly appointed Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said his administration would work to ensure a repeat of the violence would not happen again.
“We shall take measures against those who were behind the chaos,” he told reporters during a visit to the camp.
But amid conflicting reports on just who was responsible for the violence, it was hard to see how government troops -- who are battling to wrest control of the capital from al Shabaab militants and who have at times even fought each other in years of civil war -- could bring the perpetrators to justice.
Sacdia Kassim, a Somali aid worker working for a local charity in partnership with the WFP, told Reuters looting was becoming a common occurrence in Mogadishu.
“We often witness government forces and residents looting food for displaced people,” Kassim said.
“We knew those trucks of food would be looted one day. They were mouth-watering for the government militia. Unfortunately, I saw fleeing refugees and others running away with the aid food on my way to the camp,” she added.
ALL SOMALIS ARE HUNGRY
WFP spokesman David Orr told Reuters food distribution at Badbaado had begun some time after at 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) and carried on smoothly for about two hours.
“By all accounts, it got out of hand. It got a bit chaotic and looting of the food started.”
“It seems that all the remainder was lost,” he said.
WFP has said aid groups cannot reach more than 2 million Somalis in the worst-hit areas because al Shabaab fighters have blocked access to most aid agencies.
The U.N.’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said it would fly more than 31 tonnes of shelter material and aid items into Mogadishu Monday, its first humanitarian airlift into Somalia in more than five years.
Stolen aid often ends up for sale in markets or in the hands of militants.
“Government forces started the game and we pop in where there is a unexpected chance. I will sell half of this food to get some cash. It is not a surprise,” Mogadishu resident Hashim Ibrahim, 30, told Reuters as he hurried out of the camp with a wheelbarrow full of rations.
Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Richard Lough
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