Official: Possible War Crimes in Somalia

April 7th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

By CHRIS TOMLINSON(AP) | April 06, 2007

Ethiopian and Somali forces may have committed war crimes in battles against insurgents and European Union countries could be considered complicit if they do nothing to stop them, according to an EU email obtained by The Associated Press on Friday.

The warning, by a senior security official, came in an urgent e-mail to Eric van der Linden, the EU ambassador based in Nairobi.

“I need to advise you that there are strong grounds to believe that the Ethiopian government and the transitional federal government of Somalia and the African Union (peacekeeping) Force Commander, possibly also including the African Union Head of Mission and other African Union officials have through commission or omission violated the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” the e-mail said.

EU officials, speaking on condition they not be named because a legal matter was involved, confirmed the e-mail’s authenticity.

The author, whose name was blanked out on the copy obtained by the AP but whose senior position was apparent from the text, went on to detail the exact statutes that were violated. They included intentionally directing attacks against civilians and ordering the displacement of civilians for reasons related to the conflict.

“In regard to the above mentioned potential violations of international law there arise urgent questions of responsibility and potential complicity in the commission of war crimes by the European Commission and its partners,” the e-mail continued. The European Commission has been a major financial backer of the Somali government and the African Union peacekeeping mission, which is currently made up of only Ugandan troops.

The e-mail was sent on April 2, following four days of the heaviest fighting in Somalia in 15 years. The day after the e-mail was written, the European Union issued a statement calling for an end to the fighting.

“We are deeply concerned about the humanitarian impact of the conflict in Mogadishu and the indiscriminate shelling of heavily populated areas,” the EU statement said on April 3. Such a statement could absolve the EU from failing to act to stop the alleged war crimes.

Richard Hands, deputy head of delegation for the EU in Kenya and Somalia, said the e-mail was a routine review of the potential for war crimes in conflict areas where the EU is working.

“These allegations are, of course, taken seriously and we are looking into it,” he said. “The European Union takes international humanitarian law very seriously and are always aware in situations where it is working.”

The priority in Somalia is reconciliation that is inclusive and genuine, he added.
Somali officials were unreachable for comment.

The e-mail comes just days before the EU was expected to release $20 million for the African peacekeeping force and could lead to its suspension, a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The United States is also a major financial support of the Somali government and the peacekeepers, pledging more than $120 million.

Solomon Abebe, spokesman for the Ethiopian ministry of foreign affairs called the allegations a “fabrication.”

“The international community, everybody knows that this is false,” he said.

But European diplomats said they were concerned.

“We are looking at this from a legal point of view at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Stockholm,” said Jens Orlander, the Swedish special envoy for Somalia based in Nairobi, Kenya.

The European Union has no mechanism for investigating and prosecuting war crimes in Somalia, that would fall on the International Criminal Court.

One Somali human rights group, which asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, said it was gathering evidence of war crimes in Somalia for submission to the International Criminal Court for possible future prosecutions.

Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf and his cabinet ministers have repeated called for civilians to leave their homes because insurgents have fired mortars at Ethiopian and government troops from densely populated neighborhoods.

The U.N. refugee agency says some 124,000 people have fled Mogadishu since the beginning of February. In the last six days 73,000 have fled for safety.

New York-based Human Rights Watch called Friday for all sides to end indiscriminate attacks against civilians.

“Civilians in Mogadishu are paying an intolerable price for the failure of all sides to abide by the rules of warfare,” said Georgette Gagnon, deputy Africa director of Human Rights Watch.

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