NAIROBI (AFP) — Amnesty International on Friday called on Ethiopia to investigate allegations that its troops killed at least 21 people, including 11 unarmed civilians, in a mosque in the Somali capital.
The rights group cited several sources which said Ethiopian troops carried out the killings on April 19. The Ethiopian government has rejected the claims.
At least 10 other people were killed by Ethiopian forces near the Al-Hidaya mosque in northern Mogadishu, bringing the death toll to 31, an Amnesty statement said.
“Deliberately killing civilians is a war crime,” said Amnesty. “We call on the Ethiopian government to ensure an independent investigation is carried out into the raid on the mosque and the subsequent treatment of those detained by its forces.”
“Seven of the 21 killed at the mosque were reported to have had their throats cut, a form of illegal execution practised by Ethiopian troops in Somalia,” it said.
Mogadishu residents and witnesses have said Ethiopian forces carried out the mosque killings. But the Ethiopia foreign ministry has accused Islamist militants of carrying out the killings.
“Amnesty International has accused Ethiopian defense forces of having been responsible for various atrocities. That is regrettable and would not be in the interest of the promotion of respect for human rights and humanitarian laws,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The cutting of the throats of even enemies and mutilating bodies is not in the tradition of Ethiopian troops. On the other hand, the Al-Shabaab (Islamist) terrorists have never been ashamed of these types of atrocities,” it said.
The government said the Islamists carried out the killings because of the success of the April 19 operation.
“The operation was successful beyond expectation … there was minimal civilian causality. All those who argue to the contrary are either deliberately peddling false information or are being misled by Al-Shabaab (Islamist) propaganda,” it added.
Residents said the Ethiopians killed at least nine Mogadishu Islamic clerics, but Ethiopia said its troops have never killed a religious leader.
Amnesty said the Ethiopians also detained at least 40 children and youths aged from nine to 18 during the raid which occurred as Ethiopian and Somali forces cracked down on Islamists waging an insurgency in the horn of Africa nation.
The Amnesty statement, citing Somali media and a government spokesman, said 32 children had been freed while 18 were handed over to Somali police.
“Amnesty International calls for the 18 who remain in detention to be charged with a recognized offence and brought before a court, or released,” the statement added.
Ethiopian troops came to the rescue of Somalia’s embattled transitional government in late 2006 to oust an Islamist militia which had taken control of much of the country.
Islamist fighters have since waged a guerrilla war against the government, their Ethiopian allies and African Union peacekeepers, with civilians often caught in the crossfire.
Somalia has been rocked by fighting ever since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre.