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All sides in Somali conflict guilty of violations-HRW

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 15 Aug 2011 14:57 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Aid organisations still face unsafe conditions

* HRW calls on Kenya to provide more land for camps

* Somalia denies abuses by govt troops

By Yara Bayoumy

NAIROBI, Aug 15 (Reuters) - All sides in Somalia&${esc.hash}39;s conflict, including peacekeepers, government troops and Islamist rebels, have carried out war crimes and killed civilians, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday.

The rights groups accused insurgents, Somali government troops and members of the African Union AMISOM peacekeeping force of firing indiscriminately into civilian areas during fighting, adding to the suffering in a country hit by famine.

Somalia&${esc.hash}39;s government denied the charges, saying rebels were responsible for most war crimes. No one was immediately available for comment from AMISOM.

"Abuses by al Shabaab (rebels) and by pro-government forces have vastly multiplied the suffering from Somalia&${esc.hash}39;s famine," HRW&${esc.hash}39;s African Division researcher, Neela Ghoshal, said in Nairobi.

"HRW calls on all sides to take urgent steps to stop these unlawful attacks, let in aid and end the humanitarian nightmare."

More than 12 million people in Somalia and other parts of the Horn of Africa have been caught up in the region&${esc.hash}39;s worst drought in decades, according to the United Nations.

In Somalia, aid and food deliveries have been blocked by al Shabaab Islamist rebels, fighting the government in the latest chapter of a two-decade civil conflict, sparked by the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

HRW said aid workers were still struggling to get deliveries through. "It&${esc.hash}39;s a daily battle for access to provide aid to extremely needy people. The conditions for aid workers remain extremely unsafe," Ghoshal said.

African peacekeepers have fought alongside government troops in the capital Mogadishu since 2007, propping up President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed&${esc.hash}39;s embattled administration.

Al Shabaab rebels pulled withdrew from the city earlier this month saying they were making a tactical retreat. The government hailed the retreat as a major victory.

The rights group issued a 58-page report, titled, "You Don&${esc.hash}39;t Know Who To Blame: War Crimes in Somalia", documenting attacks on civilians by rebels, government soldiers and peacekeepers. It said Kenyan police and Somali militias backed by Kenya and Ethiopia had also carried out abuses.

HRW said the AMISOM peacekeeping force had regularly responded to al Shabaab&${esc.hash}39;s attacks by firing into residential areas.

The report said the government had largely failed to protect civilians, a charge the government denied.

"We refute these allegations and the government is willing to meet with Human Rights Watch officials to discuss their concerns," said Somalia&${esc.hash}39;s government spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman. He blamed al Shabaab for "most of the human rights violations that happen in Somalia".

HRW&${esc.hash}39;s Neela Ghoshal said that while al Shabaab has left 95 percent of Mogadishu, the group now getting reports of government soldiers robbing civilians.

"With the removal of al Shabaab we have to make sure it doesn&${esc.hash}39;t create a situation in which the TFG (Transitional Federal Government) feels like the population in Mogadishu is fair game."

HRW said it gathered evidence from Somali refugees who fled to neighbouring Kenya to escape the fighting and famine.

HRW urged the Kenyan government to make more land available for camps, a controversial issue among some politicians in Kenya who are reluctant to take more refugees. (Editing by Richard Lough)

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