Minsk - Belarus's transport ministry confirmed on Tuesday that a Belarussian cargo plane was hit by a rocket and seriously damaged while carrying humanitarian aid into the Somali capital Mogadishu.

The Ilyushin-76 aircraft, belonging to state-run Transaviaexport, caught fire after being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in the approach to the landing strip, according to a statement from the aviation branch of the transport and communications ministry.

The plane landed safely and none of the 15 people aboard was injured.

The assailant was believed to have fired the rocket, normally meant for use against ground targets, from a small boat while the plane passed at a height of about 150m, the statement said.

Islamist fighters had claimed the attack on Friday, saying in a statement on a website that their targets were African Union peacekeepers on the plane, whom they described as "invading troops."

Officials in Somalia had insisted there was no attack and that the fire on the plane had been caused by a technical fault.

According to the Belarussian ministry the cargo plane was carrying nine crew, all citizens of Belarus, as well as six Ugandan citizens.

Experts have flown from Belarus to inspect the aircraft, which was seriously damaged by the blast and accompanying fire, the transport ministry said.

The African Union peacekeeping force began deploying in Somalia last week, amid continuing Islamic insurgent attacks. Around 1 000 Ugandan soldiers have already arrived in the Somali capital.

The Ugandans are the advance party in a force of about 8 000 provided by the African Union to bolster the weak government's attempts to govern the country effectively. - Sapa-AFP