Ethiopia, Somalia accused of war crimes
Aug 15, 2007
RUMBEK, Sudan — Human Rights Watch on Monday accused the transitional government in Somalia and the Ethiopian troops that helped bring it to power of committing war crimes in Somalia, saying Ethiopian troops had shelled hospitals, Somali officials had blocked aid convoys and both forces had shown wanton indifference toward civilians.
In a scathing 113-page report on the bloodshed in Somalia, Human Rights Watch also blamed Somali insurgents for summary executions and mutilating bodies.
The report found what Somali refugees, United Nations arms monitors and Western diplomats in East Africa have been saying for months: that Somalia is a human rights nightmare characterized by wild urban combat, heavy casualties and no foreseeable end.
“The warring parties have all shown criminal disregard for the well-being of the civilian population of Mogadishu,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
Ethiopian and Somali officials denied their troops had committed any abuses.
“Those are very unfounded reports,” said Bereket Simon, special adviser to the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi. “We haven’t killed any civilians.”
Abdi Haji Goobdoon, a spokesman for the Somali transitional government, called the report “very, very complicated.”
“During the fighting this spring,” he said, “we were acting in self-defense. Our government had just arrived in the capital and we were coming under repeated attack. We had to stop it.”
But the violence seems to go on and on. On Monday, at least 9 people were killed in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, by gunfire and a powerful roadside bomb, according to news service reports. Over the weekend, two prominent Somali journalists were assassinated in Mogadishu.
Many diplomats in Africa are now calling Somalia the new Iraq and many seem exhausted by the steady slide downward of security, even in a place notorious for chaos. Somalia has not had a permanent central government since 1991. Late last year, thousands of Ethiopian troops rearranged the power dynamic by ousting an Islamic movement that had seized considerable territory. The Ethiopians then helped empower a Western-backed transitional government that previously had limited influence inside Somalia. The Ethiopian government and the American military, which provided the Ethiopians with prized intelligence, had accused the Islamists of harboring Al Qaeda terrorists.
Since then, the Ethiopian troops have been facing an insurgency that appears to be a mix of clan militias, disgruntled businessmen, hired gunmen and remnants of the Islamist forces.
Last month, United Nations arms monitors accused the Ethiopian military of dropping white phosphorous bombs on insurgents and killing 35 civilians in the process. Residents said the bombs literally melted people. The Ethiopian government denied even having white phosphorous bombs in its arsenal.
In April, European diplomats said they were investigating whether Ethiopian and Somali government forces committed war crimes during heavy artillery shelling in Mogadishu that reduced blocks of buildings to smoldering rubble and killed hundreds of civilians.
The Human Rights Watch report provided accounts of witnesses in Mogadishu who said they saw Ethiopian troops killing captured insurgent suspects and firing on hospitals from tanks. Other Mogadishu residents said they had been imprisoned by the transitional government in underground bunkers, where prisoners were routinely beaten.
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