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Somali troops shoot seven refugees in UN food camp

Somali government troops opened fire yesterday on hungry civilians, killing at least seven people as they made a grab for food at a UN distribution site in the capital of this famine-stricken country, witnesses said.

Witnesses accused government soldiers of starting the chaos by trying to steal some of the 290 tons of dry rations as the aid workers handed them out in the biggest camp in Mogadishu for famine refugees. Then refugees joined in the scramble, prompting some soldiers to open fire, the witnesses said.

"It was carnage. They ruthlessly shot everyone," said Abdi Awale Nor, who has been living at the camp. "Even dead bodies were left on the ground and other wounded bled to death."

David Orr, a spokesman for the World Food Programme, said the food distribution started smoothly at around 6am but degenerated a couple hours later.

"We got reports of trouble, looting. The trucks were overwhelmed by a mob of people. There were reports of some shots fired," said Mr Orr, who said he could not confirm any death tolls.

Another refugee, Muse Sheik Ali, said soldiers first tried to steal some of the food aid, and that other refugees began to take the food. "Then soldiers opened fire at them, and seven people, including elderly people, were killed on the spot. Then soldiers took the food and people fled from the camp," he said.

Thousands of Somalis have flooded into Mogadishu from the drought-stricken south. The drought and famine in Somalia have killed more than 29,000 children under the age of five in the last 90 days in southern Somalia alone, according to US estimates. The Somali Prime Minister, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, later visited the camp and promised an investigation.