AU troops harming Somali civilians

2010-07-22 08:28

African Union peacekeepers are indiscriminately shelling

residential areas of Somalia’s capital, according to internal AU reports

reviewed by The Associated Press.

The evaluation was made months before Somali militants claimed they

carried out twin bombings that killed 76 people in Uganda last week – attacks

the insurgents said were to avenge civilian deaths caused by AU soldiers.

The series of reports, stamped for “Internal use only” and issued

from April to June, said that if indiscriminate shelling continues, the AU

mission will lose the support of the Somali people.

Civilians have suffered through nearly two decades of violent chaos

in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, since the country’s government was overthrown

in 1991.

Al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militants now control large portions of

the capital, and much of the country’s southern and central regions.

The AU force, known as AMISOM, has long been criticised by human

rights groups for civilian deaths in Somalia, and the internal reports seen by

AP show the mission itself is aware of the problem.

In a report issued in May, the AU expressed concern that the force

“may not be adequately giving the issue of indiscriminate shelling of civilians

the urgent attention it deserves”.

A similar report in June said AMISOM “continues to underestimate

the importance of being seen to address this critical issue”.

An AU spokesperson, Major Barigye Bahoku, denied yesterday that AU

forces kill civilians, saying the deaths are caused by extremists who attack

government and AU troops.

Bahoku said: “Too many civilians are caught in the crossfire, but

the responsibility for this lies on the destructive extremists who unleash

reckless attacks on (government) and AMISOM forces.”

Al-Shabab, the Muslim militant group that claimed responsibility

for the July 11 attacks on a Kampala rugby club and restaurant packed with

people watching the World Cup final on television, had long threatened to strike

outside of Somalia’s borders.

Uganda is one of two African nations that contribute troops to the

more than 5 000-member AU force in Somalia.

Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, al-Shabab’s spokesperson, said: “We warned

Uganda not to deploy troops to Somalia; they ignored us. We warned them to stop

massacring our people, and they ignored that. The explosions in Kampala were

only a minor message to them. We will target them everywhere if Uganda does not

withdraw from our land.”

He said Burundi, which also contributes to the AU force, could also

face attacks.

Shelling is a near-daily occurrence in Somalia’s capital, and

international rights groups have decried the deadly impact on civilians.

Human Rights Watch said in a report in April that major parties to

the conflict have carried out “numerous indiscriminate attacks with terrible

consequences for the civilian population”.

The report accused Somali government troops and African

peacekeepers of lobbing mortar rounds toward areas considered the source of

incoming fire, or “simply bombarding areas such as Bakara market that are

opposition strongholds”.

Human Rights Watch said: “Such attacks, while of limited military

value, cause considerable loss of civilian life and property damage.”

Somalia’s former state minister for defence, Yusuf Mohamed Siyad,

told the AP he once witnessed more than 60 artillery shells, missiles and

mortars fired into residential areas and the Bakara market in response to three

mortars fired by militants.

Siyad resigned from his position last month because he said the

government had failed to deliver either security or services to the


Earlier this month, after an artillery shell killed families who

sought shelter in a building in another popular market, the head of Mogadishu’s

ambulance service said he believed the round was too strong to have been fired

by Islamist militants.

Ali Muse said: “It was so strong that it obliterated the building.

The scene was scary. Human flesh was scattered everywhere.”

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