Local officials in Somalia have accused African Union peacekeepers of firing on civilians in the capital, Mogadishu, killing as many as 39 people after a roadside explosion. A spokesman for the AU force has denied that the troops shot at civilians.
The deputy mayor of Mogadishu, Abdifatah Shaweye, says Ugandan peacekeepers opened fire on public buses, after a roadside bomb exploded near their convoy. He describes the event as a massacre, saying AU troops killed 39 civilians.
There have also been reports that AU troops confiscated the video camera of a journalist who was filming at the scene.
A spokesman for the AU mission, Bahoku Barigye, confirms a roadside bomb had exploded near an AU convoy. But, speaking to VOA from Mogadishu, he criticized the deputy mayor's comments as irresponsible.
"I am positively not at liberty to discuss some of the details we have about what transpired," he said. "For someone to stand up and say that AMISOM has murdered innocent civilians, it's unfortunate. I think the people of Somalia are not stupid, I know they are intelligent enough to look at these bodies and tell whether the death that was occasioned was from a roadside bomb or from bullets."
The nearly 3,000 Ugandan and Burundian AU peacekeepers have become an increasing target of Islamist insurgents in Mogadishu, particularly since Ethiopian troops withdrew from the country, last month. The AU has approved another 5,000 troops, but Nigeria and other countries have yet to follow through on their pledged contributions. Monday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon raised the possibility of incorporating the AU troops into a larger U.N. peacekeeping force.
Ethiopian troops withdrew from Somalia last month, after spending two years battling Islamist insurgents. However, Ethiopia has retained large forces along the border. The Reuters news agency has reported claims that Ethiopian troops have crossed back into Somalia, in recent days, setting up a checkpoint near Baladwayne, which is controlled by the radical Islamist Al-Shabaab militia. Ethiopia denies this.
On Saturday, moderate Islamist leader Sheikh Shaif Sheikh Ahmed was sworn in as Somalia's new president. He was chosen by members of Somalia's parliament as part of an U.N.-backed agreement with the country's transitional government. The choice of Sheikh Sharif, who heads the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia, has been greeted with measured optimism. On Monday Ban Ki-moon praised his selection.
But the Shabaab, which was formerly allied with Sheikh Sharif in the Islamic Courts Union that briefly took control of Mogadishu in 2006, has vowed to continue its insurgency. Somalia's Radio Garowe reports that a spokesman for the group has accused Sheikh Sharif of siding with the United States over Islam. The group has organized demonstrations against Sheikh Sharif in the towns under its control, including Baidoa, site of Somalia's parliament. Sheikh Sharif's selection has also been rejected by a hard-line faction of the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia, led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and based in Asmara.