MOGADISHU, Somalia – Somali government soldiers in a pickup truck killed at least four civilians after opening fire on hundreds of people attending a peace rally in the country's war-ravaged capital, officials said Tuesday.
Mogadishu's deputy mayor, Warsame Mohamed Jodah, condemned the shooting and said the rally was organized by his administration to promote peace in the city.
Jodah said a government pickup truck pulled up near the rally and opened fire.
"The men and women who gathered there wanted peace to be realized in Somalia. They wanted the fire to cease. But government soldiers have turned the rally into a mourning," he said.
Ali Muse, the chief of Mogadishu's ambulance service, said his team collected four dead bodies and that 17 others were wounded.
Mogadishu residents have long accused soldiers of the fragile government of daily harassment and sometimes of reckless killings. The majority of the soldiers are former militiamen with little discipline.
Tuesday's incident came a day after New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the U.N. to set up commission to probe crimes committed in Somalia. The Horn of Africa nation has been mired in violence since 1991, when clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other.
Thousands of civilians have been killed in Mogadishu — the epicenter of the country's chaos — and human rights groups have repeatedly lamented the lack of serious efforts to hold warring parties accountable for their actions.
"The world has for too long ignored the appalling cost to civilians of the fighting in Mogadishu," said Rona Peligal, Human Rights Watch's deputy Africa director. "An international commission of inquiry is urgently needed to investigate war crimes committed in Somalia by all sides."
The group said former Mogadishu residents told its researchers that the people there are trapped in between the "hit and run" tactics of insurgent groups and the indiscriminate shelling by African Union peacekeepers and government forces.
Associated Press reporter Malkhadir M. Muhumed in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.