Amnesty International accuses Ethiopian troops in Somalia of war atrocities

Ethiopia's government: Report unbalanced and "categorically wrong."

somalia gunmen 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
somalia gunmen 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Amnesty International said Tuesday that Ethiopian troops who support Somalia's UN-backed government are killing civilians, slitting people's throats and gang-raping women. The human rights group called on the international community to intervene to halt the bloodshed. It released a report Tuesday containing chilling witness accounts of indiscriminate killings - and even the intentional targeting of civilians - in the Horn of Africa nation. The accounts single out Ethiopian troops for some of the worst violations. Ethiopia's government said the report was unbalanced and "categorically wrong." Somalia's shaky transitional government invited Ethiopian forces into the country at the end of 2006 to help it battle Islamic insurgents. In addition to the insurgency, Somalia has been rent by years of violence between the militias of rival clan warlords. The human rights group says it has scores of reports of killings by Ethiopian troops that Somalis have described as "slaughtering like goats." In one case, "a young child's throat was slit by Ethiopian soldiers in front of the child's mother," the report says. Such victims often are left to die in the streets, lying in pools of blood until fighters retreat and their bodies can be recovered, the report says. "It's totally unfounded," Ethiopia's Information Minister Berhanu Hailu told The Associated Press in Addis Ababa. "Normally when they report they do not balance it out. They have to go and see the reality for themselves. They shouldn't report from abroad saying this is happening." Ethiopian officials last month denied an Amnesty report that accused its troops of the "targeted killing of civilians," particularly in a deadly raid on a mosque. The April 19 raid on Al-Hidaya Mosque killed 21 people, some of whom had their throats slit. Amnesty's report says some 6,000 civilians were reported killed and more than 600,000 people forced from their homes in the Somali capital last year. Some people are being buried in the grounds of schools because it is not safe to reach cemeteries, it says. "The people of Somalia are being killed, raped, tortured. Looting is widespread and entire neighborhoods are being destroyed," Michelle Kagari, Amnesty's deputy director for Africa, said in a statement from Nairobi accompanying the report. "The testimony we received strongly suggests that war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity have been committed by all parties to the conflict in Somalia and no one is being held accountable," Kagari said. The situation requires immediate and effective action by the international community, the report says, calling for intervention particularly from the United Nations, the African Union, the Arab League and governments in the International Contact Group for Somalia, which includes the United States. "The international community must bear its own responsibility for not putting consistent pressure on the TFG (Somali government) or the Ethiopian government to stop their armed forces from committing egregious human rights violations." Amnesty also called for more than 2,000 African Union peacekeepers in Somalia to be given a mandate to protect civilians. The peacekeepers' key mandates include protecting government officials and key institutions and training Somali security forces. Until about nine months ago, Mogadishu residents preferred the conduct of Ethiopian troops over Somali forces, the report says. But since Islamic insurgents intensified their struggle against Ethiopians, whom they consider invaders, the frustrated Ethiopians appear to have turned on civilians, it says. "There is no safety for civilians wherever they run," Amnesty said. Those fleeing Mogadishu still face violence on roads, including theft, rape and shootings. Once they reach refugee settlements, they face further violence in addition to chronic shortages of food, clean water and medical care because humanitarian operations are frequently impeded by parties to the conflict and armed criminal groups, it said. Somalia has been mired in chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another. Last year, Islamist militants took control of most of southern Somalia, including Mogadishu. Troops from neighboring Ethiopia deployed in December 2006 and ejected the Islamic radicals from the capital. But since then, Mogadishu has been caught up in a guerrilla war between the government and its Ethiopian allies on one side and the Islamist insurgents on the other. Grenade attacks and exchanges of heavy gunfire are frequent. The report, nearly 9,000 words long, quotes testimony from about 75 witnesses as well as scores of workers for non-governmental organizations. People are identified only by their first names to protect them from attack. Aguled, 32, said he saw his neighbors "slaughtered." He said he saw many men whose throats were slit and whose bodies were left in the street. Some had their testicles cut off, he said. He also reported seeing women raped. One incident took place next door to him where a newly wed woman was raped by more than 20 Ethiopian troops in a line, he said. Haboon, 56, said her neighbors' 17-year-old daughter was raped and their sons were killed by Ethiopian troops. The daughter is in a coma in Mogadishu as a result of injuries sustained in the attack. The boys, ages 13 and 14, tried to defend their sister but the soldiers beat them and gouged out their eyes with a bayonet, Haboon said. She didn't know what happened to them after that. Even their mother did not wait to see. She just fled, Haboon said.