Amnesty International has accused Ethiopian troops of capturing 40 Somali children during a raid on a mosque last week, and called for their release.

The rights group condemned the killing of more than 20 people, including some religious scholars, during the raid.

It quoted witnesses as saying that many of the dead were unarmed civilians, and that some had had their throats cut.

Ethiopia denied its troops were involved in the killings, which came during fierce clashes with insurgents.

"The safety and welfare of the children must be paramount for all parties," said Amnesty's UK Director Kate Allen.

"The UN Security Council must endeavour to investigate human rights violations committed during the armed conflict."

Throats cut

Somalia's Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein said his government was defending itself, with the support of Ethiopian troops, during the weekend's clashes in the capital.

But Amnesty said the throat-cuttings were a form of extra-judicial execution practised by Ethiopian forces in Somalia.

The Ethiopian forces said they would only release the children from their military base in north Mogadishu "once they had been investigated" and "if they were not terrorists", witnesses told Amnesty.

Some 80 people were killed during the weekend, local residents say, including at least six religious leaders from the Tabliq Sufi sect, which is not involved in the conflict.

Ghanim Alnajjar, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Somalia, denounced the killing of civilians and called for an immediate ceasefire.

Locals have accused the Ethiopian troops of shelling residential areas of the capital.

"The use of heavy weaponry in areas where civilians are concentrated left reportedly 81 civilians dead and more than 100 wounded," said Mr Alnajjar.

The UN says more than half of Mogadishu's population has fled recent fighting in the city, and has warned that Somalia faces the possible twin catastrophes of war and famine.

The Ethiopians intervened in 2006 to help government forces oust Islamists who had taken control of much of southern Somalia.

The country has not had an effective national government since 1991.

BBC News