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Invading Ethiopian troops committing genocide against Somali civilians?

Posted By Philippe Khan

Tensions escalated in Somalia after a member of the transitional government switched sides and accused invading Ethiopian troops of committing “genocide” against Somali civilians in the capital, Mogadishu. 

The accusation by Hussein Aideed, the deputy prime minister, took already high tensions in the Horn of Africa to a new level because it came from a high-ranking Somali official. His call on Ethiopian forces to leave Mogadishu revealed the deep divisions within Somalia’s interim government. 

Before the invasion of Ethiopian troops last December, Aideed - a former warlord and an influential member of the Hawiye clan; the dominant clan in Mogadishu – was one of the strongest supporters of Ethiopian involvement in Somalia and even called for the unification of the two countries. 

But now Aideed, who is currently in Eritrea - Ethiopia's nemesis and the center of the opposition to Ethiopia's presence in Somalia – is accusing Ethiopian forces of committing "war crimes" and calling on them to leave. He even expressed fears that his country is turning into “another Iraq”. 

"Ethiopian troops must leave Somali territory to let the Somalis decide their own fate," he said in a brief interview broadcast on Eritrean state-run EriTV on April 8. 

Ethiopia dismissed Aideed's accusations as “an absolute Dabrication”. In a recent statement, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tekede Alemu said such charges were "expected from someone with no interest in peace and stability in Somalia." 

But Aideed’s comments signaled his effective defection from the transitional government to join the growing opposition that rejects the presence of foreign troops in Somalia and view neighboring Ethiopia in particular as a longstanding rival. 

The interim government has failed to control Somalia, which has been chaotic since 1991, when ruler Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown. The violence in Mogadishu surged in December when Ethiopian troops, backed by the United States, helped Somali forces oust the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) - the Islamist movement that had taken control of the capital and much of the south of Somalia – and install President Abdullahi Yusuf's interim government. Since then, hundreds of Somali civilians have died and tens of thousands have fled Mogadishu. 

War crimes
Analysts say Aideed’s accusation could also create pressure for an official international probe into the recent death and destruction in the Somali capital. 

Four days of heavy fighting triggered last month when U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces attacked what the interim Somali government claimed were Islamist fighters and clan gunmen led to what the Red Cross described as the “worst violence seen in Mogadishu for 15 years”. 

The Ethiopian offensive claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians and wounded thousands, according to human rights groups and local media reports. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said more than 10,000 people left Mogadishu in just four days, bringing the total displaced to nearly 100,000 since February.

Last week, the European Union called for an investigation into the excessive use of force used by Ethiopian troops, with vague talk of possible war crimes charges. However, there has been little progress towards an international probe, because of the complexity of the conflict and the fact that some Western states view the Ethiopian involvement in Somalia as a necessary part of the United States’ “war on terror”, according to an article on Relief Web. 

Ali Hussein, a lawyer in Mogadishu, said it would be difficult to charge anybody for the crimes committed in Somalia because the civilians killed there are the victims of the broader “war on terror”. Nobody would be persecuted in this age of “inhumanity and impunity” when human rights take a back seat, he said. 

According to some analysts in Mogadishu, the fragile ceasefire in place in the capital is untenable and there is little prospect of any of the belligerents withdrawing any time soon. 

In the meantime, Somali civilians, who bear the brunt of the violence, are blaming all sides for their anarchy, preparing for the worst and placing little hope on the international community’s ability to end the flagrant disregard for the suffering of the innocent in the Horn of Africa. 

Asli Diiriye, the mother of six-month-old baby killed by shrapnel, told ISN Security Watch that she holds the Ethiopian government, which she views as an occupying force, and clan rebels for her loss, echoing similar views of the majority of Somali residents who are caught in the crossfire of a battle they never wanted. 

Asli says she wants justice from the United Nations, but first and foremost she wants protection - which she believes is only possible through a form of international intervention not directly connected to the U.S.-led war on terror.


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