MOGADISHU, Somalia — A World Food Program handout of corn rations to Somalis trying to survive a famine turned deadly Friday after government troops opened fire, killing at least seven, witnesses said.
Residents of Mogadishu's largest famine refugee camp accused government soldiers of starting the chaos by trying to steal some of the 290 tons of dry rations that aid workers were trying to distribute there. Then refugees joined in the scramble, prompting soldiers to open fire, the witnesses said.
"They fired on us as if we were their enemy," said refugee Abidyo Geddi. "When people started to take the food then the gunfire started."
The chaos underscores the dangers and challenges of getting help to a nation that has been essentially ungoverned for two decades and now has a severe famine sweeping through it. There are 9,000 African Union soldiers in the capital, but their main mission is to fight al-Qaida linked Islamists, not safeguard humanitarian aid.
Aid workers are puzzling over how to help the starving without helping gunmen who either prey on the refugees, compete for security contracts to guard the food, or steal it and take a share of the profits when it's sold at market.
U.S. and U.N. officials acknowledged that some aid in Somalia is bound to be stolen during delivery.
"Will there be losses? Sure. Will there be some looting? Of course there will be. What we have to do is try to minimize it," said World Food Program spokesman David Orr.