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Rights Activists Condemn Somali Executions

International human rights activists and lawyers are condemning reports that Somalia's interim government has carried out its first formal executions since the government body was formed with international backing in 2004. Two Somali men were put to death by a firing squad Thursday, just days after they were arrested and found guilty in a military court. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

A Horn of Africa researcher for the London-based human rights group, Amnesty International, says his organization has not been able to obtain full details of the case.

But the researcher, Martin Hill, says based on what is known, he believes the men did not receive a fair trial before they were sentenced to death.

"It is very regrettable that one of the first well-known incidents of trial has resulted in swift executions without legal safeguards," said Hill. "If there had been a proper court constituted, with defense lawyers who had been given time to consult their clients and present a defense, if there had been proper proceedings, if they had the right of appeal, to petition for clemency at the end, these are the safeguards, which any judicial system should incorporate and clearly, that is quite impossible in such a short period of time."

According to Mogadishu-based Shabelle Radio, government troops carried out the executions Thursday morning, after the two men were arrested and found guilty in the deaths of two government soldiers who belonged to a powerful clan called the Darod.

Government officials did not allow any journalist to speak to the accused or witness the executions.

But Shabelle Radio says that an official from the Somali National Security Agency told its reporter that one of the condemned men was a government soldier who joined a group of insurgents in attacking a Somali military base in north Mogadishu.

VOA has learned that the government soldier and the other accused man belonged to a sub-clan of the Hawiye, Mogadishu's most dominant clan and whose members make up the vast majority of the people waging a bloody anti-government insurgency in the capital.

Suspicion and anger is growing among the Hawiye that the government's top leader, Darod President Abdullahi Yusuf, may have played a role in the execution of the Hawiye men in an act of clan revenge.

The Darod is the Hawiye's chief rival for power in the capital. The Hawiye allege that the soldiers who executed the men are loyal to the president, and they were simply seeking revenge for the deaths of two of their own by Hawiye insurgents.

The Reuters News Agency quotes government sources as saying the two executed men were Islamist insurgents who murdered a government official on Monday.

With hopes of ending more than a decade of clan warfare, the international community forced feuding Somali factional leaders to form an interim government in 2004. In return for international support and financial help, interim leaders promised to end clan politics and pave the way for democratic elections to be held in 2009.

But a prominent Kenyan human rights activist, Harun Ndubi, says Somalia's transitional federal government, which took power in Mogadishu six months ago after ousting a group of radical Islamists, has done little to prove it can fulfill that promise.

"They are a government of warlords," said Ndubi. "But if they expect to be accepted by the rest of the civilized community, then they must defrock themselves of the warlord cloaks they are wearing and start behaving like a government of civility, a government that respects human rights."

Seven other men the government says were involved in the attack on the Somali military base have been sentenced to 15 years in prison.