Ethiopian troops in Somalia : Friend or Foe ?

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Ethiopian troops, preparing to pull out of the war-ruined Somalia, have once again been accused of committing war crimes, looting of civilian property and using civilians as human shields in the ongoing crisis in the country.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW), whose mode of research has been bashed by the Ethiopian government, said in a new report Monday that Somali’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and their Ethiopian allies had committed war crimes there.

“The world has largely ignored the horrors unfolding in Somalia, but Somali families are still left to confront the violence that grows every passing day,” Georgette Gagnon, HRW Africa Director told a news conference in Nairobi.

The US-based rights group said all the three main parties to the Somali conflict, including the TFG, the Ethiopian forces and the rebel group, Al Shabab, an Islamist terror group that has been active since 2007, had committed massive war crimes in the country.

Flawed policies

The rights lobby group said the western capitals, including the European Union, the US and other international actors, must urgently re-think their “flawed” strategies and policies in Somalia and support efforts to exert accountability.

“The combatants in Somalia have inflicted more harm on the civilians than on each other. There are no quick fixes in Somalia, but foreign governments need to stop adding fuel to the fire with misguided policies that empower human rights abusers,” Gagnon added.

In its report, dubbed “So Much to Fear: War Crimes and Devastation in Somalia,” the US non-governmental body accused all the warring factions in Somalia of committing massive human rights abuses in the country, including indiscriminate civilian attacks.


In the crimes listed in the report, killings, rape and the use of civilians as human shields top the list of the war crimes and abuses to the international law that it has documented.

“Each party to the conflict has indiscriminately fired on civilian neighborhoods in Mogadishu on an almost daily basis, levelling homes without warning and killing civilians on the streets,” the report said.

Insurgent forces have regularly carried out ambushes and roadside bombings in markets and residential areas and launched mortars from within densely populated neighborhoods, the report further explained.

Ethiopian forces have reacted to insurgent attacks with indiscriminate heavy rocket and artillery fire, with devastating impact on civilians. TFG security forces and allied militia have tortured detainees, killed and raped civilians and looted their homes, sometimes in the context of house-to-house joint security operations with Ethiopian troops.

Ethiopian forces, which were relatively disciplined in 2007, have been more widely implicated in acts of violent criminality this year. Insurgent forces have threatened and murdered civilians they view as unsympathetic to their cause and have forcibly recruited civilians, including children, into their ranks, the report claimed.

The rights lobby group said tens of thousands of Somali refugees have also fled the country this year.

Kenyan border

Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camps are now the largest concentration of refugees anywhere in the world, with nearly 250,000 inhabitants. Kenya’s border with Somalia is closed, leaving refugees at the mercy of abusive smugglers and corrupt Kenyan police.

HRW said it collected testimonies from over 80 witnesses and victims of the rights abuses in Somalia, who described the attacks in greater detail.

It called on the new US administration, led by President-elect Barack Obama, to change its anti-terrorism policy in Somalia, which it says have contributed to the worsening crisis there.

According to the report, Ethiopia’s response to the Islamist threat in Somalia has worsened the crisis in the entire country and region as a whole. It cites increased terror bombs in the previously peaceful Somaliland as an indication of the regime failures.

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