MOGADISHU, Somalia – A World Food Program handout of corn rations to Somalis trying to survive a famine turned deadly Friday after government troops opened fire, killing at least seven, witnesses said.

Residents of Mogadishu’s largest famine refugee camp accused government soldiers of starting the chaos by trying to steal some of the 290 tons of dry rations that aid workers were trying to distribute there. Then refugees joined in the scramble, prompting soldiers to open fire, the witnesses said.

“They fired on us as if we were their enemy,” said refugee Abidyo Geddi. “When people started to take the food, then the gunfire started and everyone was being shot. We cannot stay here much longer. We don’t get much food and the rare food they bring causes death and torture.”

The nation that has been essentially ungoverned for two decades is now suffering a severe famine. There are 9,000 African Union soldiers in the capital, but their main mission is to fight al-Qaida linked Islamists, not safeguard humanitarian aid.