The African Union and its backers in the Somalia conflict on Wednesday rejected accusations they flouted the laws of war while trying to quell a 3-year insurgency that has brought the nation to its knees.
Some 21 000 people have been killed in the violence since the beginning of 2007 and 3 million more - one third of the population - receive emergency aid as the Somali government and African Union troops battle Islamist rebels in the capital.
Some aid agencies and human rights groups say both sides are guilty of indiscriminate shelling of crowded markets and residential areas, something the African Union (AU) denies.
"We are not at the same level as the terrorists ... we are very careful not to shell them when they are among the population," said Boubacar Gaoussou Diarra, the African Union's special representative for Somalia.
"Al Shabaab move within the population and shell our troops but even in this case, as a peaceful operation, we have to be very careful," Diarra told reporters in Nairobi.
The al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group controls much of central and southern Somalia and has left the government in control of little more than a few streets in Mogadishu.
"Part of the challenge we have in Somalia has been the restraint on the part of the government and AMISOM (the AU peacekeeping force)," said Kiprute arap Kirwa, regional body IGAD's peace and reconciliation facilitator for Somalia.
"They only reply when there is provocation and they have kept to the rules of play," Kirwa said.
Human rights groups say Western powers and the United Nations have been quick to condemn civilian killings by Somali Islamist fighters, but are turning a blind eye to abuses by government troops and African Union soldiers.
"The US government has sent mortars to transitional government forces in Mogadishu even though no party to the fighting has used the weapons in accordance with the laws of war," Human Rights Watch said in a statement last week.
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the United Nations envoy to Somalia, challenged the human rights reports saying their evidence was built from afar and not in step with the realities in Mogadishu.