MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) – Somali government troops and their Ethiopian allies sprayed bystanders with gunfire in response to two separate bomb attacks, killing at least 40 people Friday, witnesses said.
The killings, which could not be independently confirmed, occurred a day before the president and his estranged prime minister are to hold talks amid a protracted power struggle between them that has complicated efforts to end Somalia’s expanding Islamic insurgency.
One man said Somali government forces opened fire after two explosions went off near the president’s convoy as it was traveling to the Mogadishu airport. Farah Daud said his father and four others were killed.
In a separate incident, a witness said Ethiopian soldiers opened fire indiscriminately on the road between the capital, Mogadishu, and Afgoye after roadside bombs targeted their convoy. Witness Ali Jama said he counted 35 dead.
A woman who fled the scene with her two children said she believe there were more than 30 bodies in the street. “Ethiopian convoys opened fire into different areas where thousands of displaced people were living; they killed everyone on the road,” Sahra Nor Osma said.
Tens of thousands of displaced Somalis line the road, surviving on aid handouts in ragged shelters built from sticks and clothes.
The witnesses’ accounts could not be verified Friday with Somali officials, the insurgency or Ethiopian military officials.
The reported deaths underscore the difficulty enforcing a peace agreement reached between the government and a faction of the insurgents last month. The agreement divided the insurgency, with the more radical Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys seizing power from Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, who signed the deal.
Since then, President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein have also clashed, notably over Hussein’s attempts to fire a powerful presidential ally.
Hussein accused former warlord Mohamed Dheere, the mayor of Mogadishu, of failing to quell violence in the capital, and of indiscriminate human rights abuses. Dheere was reinstated, and two-thirds of Somalia’s government resigned in protest against the prime minister, a former humanitarian.
Thousands of Somalis have been killed since Islamic fighters launched an Iraq-style insurgency in December 2006. Ethiopian troops helped the shaky transitional government push them from power in Mogadishu and much of the south, but failed to establish security or improve the standard of living.
The impoverished country has been at war since 1991, when clan-based militias ousted a socialist dictator and then fought for power among themselves. The conflict is complicated by clan loyalties and the involvement of archenemies Eritrea and Ethiopia, who both back opposite sides in the fighting.