Rights Group Accuses Somali Interim Rulers of War Crimes – By Jeffrey Gettleman

August 14th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

RUMBEK, Sudan, Aug. 13 — Human Rights Watch on Monday accused the transitional government in Somalia and the Ethiopian troops that helped bring it to power of war crimes in Somalia, (more…)

RUMBEK, Sudan, Aug. 13 — Human Rights Watch on Monday accused the transitional government in Somalia and the Ethiopian troops that helped bring it to power of war crimes in Somalia, saying that Ethiopian troops had shelled hospitals, that Somali officials had blocked aid convoys and that 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 had said for months: that Somalia was a human rights nightmare characterized by 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 that 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, we were acting in self-defense,” he said. “Our government had just arrived in the capital, and we were coming under repeated attack. We had to stop it.”

But the violence has seemed to go on and on. On Monday, gunfire and a roadside bomb killed at least nine people in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, news agencies reported. Over the weekend, two prominent Somali journalists were assassinated in Mogadishu.

Many diplomats in Africa call Somalia the new Iraq, and many seem exhausted by the steady decline 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. Ethiopia then helped empower a Western-backed transitional government that previously had limited influence in Somalia. The Ethiopian government and the American military, which provided intelligence to the Ethiopians, had accused the Islamists of harboring terrorists from Al Qaeda.

Since then, the Ethiopian troops have faced 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 melted people. Ethiopia denied even having such bombs.

In April, European diplomats said they were investigating whether Ethiopian and Somali government forces committed war crimes in heavy artillery shelling in Mogadishu that destroyed blocks of buildings to and killed hundreds of civilians.

The Human Rights Watch report provided accounts of witnesses in Mogadishu who said they had seen Ethiopian troops firing tanks at hospitals and killing captives suspected of being insurgents.

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