At least 10 people were killed and 15 were wounded when rival clan militias clashed in central Somalia, residents and community elders said Tuesday.
The battle broke out in the neighborhoods of the Balanbal district in the Galgaduud region. Both sides used rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft guns and assault rifles, witnesses and officials said.
What sparked the battle between the Ayr and Marehan clans remains unclear, but the two rival groups have had a history of repeated disputes about pasture rights, water wells and other clan disagreements.
“We call for the cessation of hostility. It is unfortunate that two brotherly clans fight over trivial matters, while their families are suffering from a severe drought,” said Mo’alim Sugaal Guuled, a respected religious scholar in the region.
The clashes come at a time when escalating drought in Somalia is creating a massive displacement crisis.
Somali authorities and international aid agencies say 245,000 people have already fled their homes, with numbers projected to reach up to 1.4 million if the drought continues.
Meanwhile, a military court in the central Somali town of Galkayo handed down death sentences Tuesday for five al-Shabab militants accused of killing several people.
Two other defendants were sentenced to life in prison.
The defendants, all between the ages of 18 and 21, appeared in the military court in prisoners’ uniforms. Some of them looked shocked and confused, according to witnesses at the court hearing.
At the court, before the sentence were announced, one of the defendants shouted, “We are innocent, and we were framed up!”
“After court proceedings, including hearings and the presentation of evidence, the court sentences these men to death and jail terms,” said the court verdict. “The defendants were responsible for the killing of 10 people, among them two members of parliament and three senior military officers.”
The defendants have 30 days to appeal the verdicts.
Al-Shabab's insurgency aims to drive out African Union peacekeepers, topple Somalia's Western-backed government, and impose its strict version of Islam on the Horn of Africa state.
Abdiwahid Mo'alim Isaq contributed to this report.