MOGADISHU, Somalia – Insurgents on Wednesday ambushed a convoy of African Union peacekeepers sent to help stabilize Somalia's violent capital, setting off a gunfight that killed at least 10 civilians, witnesses and a hospital official said.
Leaders of Mogadishu's dominant clan called on the struggling government to do more to protect civilians in one of the world's most violent cities.
Traditional leaders and businessmen from the Hawiye clan have long criticized the leadership of President Abdullahi Yusuf, a member of the rival Darod clan. Clan rivalries have been the key hurdle preventing the formation of an effective central government since 1992.
About 800 AU peacekeepers from Uganda have arrived since Tuesday, when they faced a shower of mortar fire from insurgents during a welcoming ceremony at the airport. One civilian was wounded in that attack.
In Wednesday's violence, "convoys of Ugandan troops were ambushed as they were passing the main junction in Mogadishu, and they exchanged heavy gunfire with the insurgents," one witness, Shino Abdukadir, told The Associated Press.
Somali officials said Wednesday night that three civilians had been wounded in the explosion and gunbattle, but the estimate increased Thursday after hospitals started reporting the deaths.
Ten people died as a result of their wounds, said Dahir Mohamed Mohamoud, vice chairman of Medina hospital in Mogadishu.
Deputy Defense Minister Salad Ali Jelle said the attack would not deter the peacekeepers. "The police are investigating the incident and the culprits will be treated with iron hands, soon," he told The Associated Press.
Mustaf Farah, a restaurant owner who witnessed Wednesday's attack, said he heard an explosion as three armored vehicles carrying peacekeepers went by, followed by gunfire.
"We were very scared," he said. "We saw our customers sitting in front of the restaurant bleeding and crying out with pain and shock."
The Ugandans are the first peacekeepers to enter the capital in more than a decade. They are the vanguard of a larger force authorized by the United Nations to help the government assert its authority in one of the most gun-infested cities in the world.
Somalia has seen little more than anarchy for more than a decade. The government, backed by Ethiopian troops, only months ago toppled an Islamic militia that controlled Mogadishu.
Insurgents believed to be the remnants of Somalia's Council of Islamic Courts and members of the Hawiye clan have staged almost daily attacks against the government, its armed forces and the Ethiopian military. Ethiopian troops respond to mortar attacks on their compounds by firing mortars and artillery fire into civilian areas.
"We call for the government to stop shelling civilians in response to the insurgent attacks," the Hawiye statement said. The group accused the government of trying to disarm some clans while allowing others to keep their weapons.
Interior Minister Mohamed Mohamud Guled said the statement did not reflect the Hawiye clan's true views.
"There are parasitic groups and organizations that are not happy with the government, and they are using the clan elders as political tools to achieve hidden agendas," he said.
In Nairobi, Somalia's ambassador to Kenya Mohammed Ali Nor said a long-discussed peace conference would be held in mid-April. He said it would be led by a committee independent from the government, and that 3,000 former politicians, clan elders, religious leaders and business people would attend.
However, he said remnants of the Islamic courts who do not renounce violence would not be allowed to participate.