War crimes may have occurred
NAIROBI, Kenya ” Ethiopian and Somali forces may have committed war crimes during four days of heavy artillery shelling against an Islamic insurgency in the Somali capital and foreign donors could be complicit, a European Union conflict expert said in an e-mail obtained by The Associated Press.
The United States, United Nations and the European Union have provided millions of dollars to support Somalia’s fragile interim government. Ethiopian troops intervened in December to protect the government and defeat their militant Islamic rivals.
But Islamic insurgents and clan militiamen have attacked government and Ethiopian troops in recent weeks. An operation by Ethiopian-backed government forces last week sparked the heaviest fighting in 15 years, leaving hundreds of civilians dead, and the tactics they used raised concerns among EU experts.
The warning was made in an urgent e-mail to Eric van der Linden, the chief EU official for Kenya and Somalia. Van der Linden confirmed the e-mail’s authenticity to the AP.
“I need to advise you that there are strong grounds to believe that the Ethiopian government and the transitional federal government of Somalia and the African Union (peacekeeping) Force Commander, possibly also including the African Union Head of Mission and other African Union officials have through commission or omission violated the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” the e-mail said.
The e-mail’s author, whose name was blanked out on the copy obtained by the AP but whose senior position was apparent from the text, went on to detail the exact statutes that may have been violated. They included intentionally directing attacks against civilians and ordering the displacement of civilians for reasons related to the conflict.
“There arise urgent questions of responsibility and potential complicity in the commission of war crimes by the European Commission and its partners,” the e-mail said.
Van der Linden said he forwarded the e-mail to EU headquarters for legal review.
“We cannot talk at this stage about war crimes, we need to do some serious research,” he said.
In the Somali capital, Mogadishu, residents were still burying bodies from last week’s fighting. A five-day cease-fire was holding but residents were still fleeing, fearing new clashes.
Somali officials declined to comment on the e-mail, which was sent on Monday, following the four-day battle. Solomon Abebe, spokesman for the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the allegations a “fabrication.”
“The international community, everybody knows that this is false,” he said.
The EU was shortly expected to release $20 million for the African peacekeeping force, but the e-mail could lead to the suspension of the money, a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The United States is also a major financial supporter of the Somali government and the peacekeepers, pledging more than $120 million.
European diplomats said they were analyzing the legal implications.
“We are looking at this from a legal point of view at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Stockholm,” said Jens Orlander, the Swedish special envoy for Somalia based in Nairobi.
The European Union has no mechanism for investigating and prosecuting war crimes in Somalia; that would fall on the International Criminal Court.
One Somali human rights group, which asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, said it was gathering evidence of war crimes in Somalia for submission to the International Criminal Court for possible future prosecutions.
Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf and his Cabinet ministers have repeatedly called for civilians to leave their homes because insurgents have fired mortars at Ethiopian and government troops from densely populated neighborhoods.
The U.N. refugee agency says some 124,000 people have fled Mogadishu since the beginning of February, including 11,000 in the past six days.