Somali govt sees backlash over civilian deaths in joint US, Somali forces raid

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Relatives displayed victims’ bloodied bodies in the Somali capital. last week

Comments by Somali ministers have inflamed further an already heated argument between the government and relatives of the attack victims, saying that Somali forces have targeted ‘al-Shabab’ fighters in the raid, denying that civilians were killed.

By Jeff Mwaura, jeff@alleastafrica.com

NAIROBI – Under darkness, US and Somali soldiers raided a large farm in southern Somalia last week, killing 10 civilians including women and children, in an  indication of an alarming spike in civilian casualties that many in this war torn horn of Africa nation are calling unacceptable.

In the aftermath of the deadly incident which occurred in Barire, a settlement in Lower Shabelle region, government officials contradicted each other, with the information minister Abdirahman Omar Osman said 8 ‘terrorists’ were killed in the raid which he said was carried out by Somali forces, while Somalia’s army chief said that ‘only’ civilians were killed in the raid.

Yet again, Mr. Osman appeared to reverse his initial account, saying that the government was investigating the incident. He didn’t give further details.

But, a comment by Somalia’s defense minister Abdirashid Abdullahi has inflamed further an already heated argument between the government and relatives of the attack victims, saying that Somali forces have targeted ‘al-Shabab’ fighters in the raid, denying that civilians were killed.

At one point, Somali president tried to pay tribute to the victims of the attack, just few minutes before his communications team deleted the post from his official Facebook page, sparking outrage across Somalia and beyond.

In a vehement denunciation of the civilian deaths, a Somali lawmaker lambasted the civilian deaths by US and Somali forces, saying that this latest incident was yet another example of US troops using disproportionate force.

The U.S Africa Command (AFRICOM) confirmed that its forces were accompanying Somali forces during the raid on the farm, without giving further details.

That was a massacre by US forces – this is the second such attack by forces targeting people from certain regions.” Mahad Salad said.

RISING  SENTIMENTS

However, relatives of the victims said that the increased civilian deaths drives more Somalis away from supporting Somali  government, warning that the latter would contribute to the anti-foreign forces sentiments.

“The government must give an immediate answer about this – innocent people have been killed.” said Abukar Ganey, a Somali elder as well as a relative of some of the victims killed in the attack on the farm.

Meanwhile, the latest incident and several similar attacks, largely airstrikes by Kenya that killed civilians suggest a troubling new pattern—and a potential shift in priorities in the war against al-Shabab.

Political analysts in say that despite Somali army chief’s comment admitting civilian deaths to calm the situation, it will have little impact on Somali public opinion. And they say Somalia’s central government comes under increased public pressure every time another innocent civilian is killed.

” If the government doesn’t launch a proper investigation or clear the confusion towards this incident, people are going to doubt its intentions.” said Jacob Moses, a Nairobi-based horn of Africa analyst.

BODIES IN FRIDGES

As relatives displaced the bloodied bodies, transported from the village in which the attack occurred to the Somali capital, there was an angry mood, with elders refused to bury the dead until the government admits that it was civilians who were killed in the attack, not terrorists. However, the government remains tightlipped over the incident.

The bodies are currently being kept in refrigerators in the Somali capital.

“We shall not bury the bodies until the government gives an explanation and apology about why our people were killed.” Ganey said.

Probe demands                

Despite the government’s reluctance to comment on the incident, there are growing calls and demands for a thorough and impartial investigation of the incident.

Several officials who spoke to Alleastafrica said that the raid on the farm occurred as result of a wrong intelligence information provided to the US forces by informants from clans opposed to the clan of the farmers targeted by troops.

However, Somali officials say that al-Shabab are using civilians as “human shields,” which is resulting in civilian deaths and that there might have been armed men at the farm, making it difficult for allied forces to go after rebel fighters.

(Additional reporting by Alleastafrica reporter in Mogadishu, editing by John Thiongo)

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