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Somali soldier kills five during food aid handout
by Staff Writers
Mogadishu (AFP) Sept 8, 2011

A Somali soldier killed five people and wounded three others in the famine-struck Somali capital Thursday as starving women and children gathered for food aid handouts, witnesses said.

"The soldier was arrested by the Somali police forces after the shooting," said witness Ahmed Qumbe, who saw several dead bodies at the scene.

All those who died were displaced people who had fled drought or famine in the surrounding countryside, witnesses said.

"It was horrible, I heard gunshots as displaced people gathered for food distribution, several were killed and others injured," said one, Abdiqani Adan.

The soldier reportedly opened fire after desperate crowds started pushing and shoving each other at the food distribution center in Mogadishus Waberi district, in the south of the war-torn capital.

Somali security minister Mohamed Ali condemned the shooting.

"A soldier killed five civilians and injured three others after he opened fire on people who had gathered for humanitarian assistance," Ali told AFP.

"It was a barbaric and unacceptable act, and government security forces swiftly arrested the perpetrator," he said, adding that "investigations are still going on."

Hundreds of people are believed to be dying each day in Somalia from famine exacerbated by conflict and the United Nations said Monday that three-quarters of a million Somalis are facing death by starvation, many of them children.

Six southern Somali regions have been declared famine zones, including inside Mogadishu, where over 100,000 people have fled to seeking aid in the past two months.

Some 12.4 million people in the Horn of Africa, including parts of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda, are affected by the worst drought in decades in the region and are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.

But war-torn Somalia is the hardest hit, with severely limited access especially in areas controlled by the Islamist Shebab insurgents.

The weak Western-backed transitional government controls only war-torn Mogadishu with the support of 9,000 African Union troops, but is unable to access surrounding famine-hit areas ruled by Al-Qaeda linked Shebab insurgents.

Somalia's prime minister on Thursday also called for greater international military support to extend the beleaguered government's control beyond the capital.

"More in terms of men and equipment will be required if we are to completely eliminate the extremist threat," Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said at a drought conference in the Kenyan capital.

"The greatest need continues to be felt within areas still under the effective control of the extremists, where access by international humanitarian agencies is severely restricted," he added.

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