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Somali Rights Activists Charge All Sides With War Crimes

The head of a Mogadishu-based group that promotes human rights and democracy tells VOA that Somalis in the capital are fleeing by the thousands every day, largely to escape being used as human shields and becoming victims of revenge attacks in the escalating war between Islamist-led insurgents and Somali and Ethiopian troops. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

Speaking to VOA by telephone from an undisclosed location, the head of the Somali Center for Peace and Democracy, Ibrahim (one name), says combatants in the battle for control of Mogadishu are turning villages and neighborhoods into graveyards for men, women, and children.

Among the insurgents violating human rights, Ibrahim singles out the fighters of the militant al-Qaida-linked Islamic group called the Shabbab, which has been waging a fierce guerrilla war against Somalia's internationally recognized, but weak, transitional federal government and tens of thousands of Ethiopian soldiers in the country protecting it.

The insurgency began shortly after Ethiopian troops entered Somalia last December to help the interim government oust Somali Islamists from power.

But Ibrahim says the joint force of Ethiopian troops and forces loyal to the transitional federal government are just as responsible for a growing list of human-rights violations, atrocities, and abuses against civilians in the city.

"The two fighting groups, they have used all of their power to not just kill each other, but to kill everyone," he said. "The Shabbab, they have no specific place to fight from. They are trying to mix themselves with normal civilians and they fight back in crowded places where there are families. And then, the Ethiopians and the TFG forces take action. They indiscriminately fire shells and launch every available weapon they have."

The Somali activist goes further, accusing Ethiopian and Somali troops of committing war crimes that he says have increased in number and scale since Ethiopia and the Somali government launched a renewed offensive against the insurgents last week.

Ibrahim says he has evidence of Ethiopians and Somali soldiers killing civilians living in areas of insurgent activity and wiping out entire families. He adds that one such massacre took place in a neighborhood in south Mogadishu just a few days ago.

"The Ethiopians and the TFG took control of that area and they occupied that area for one night and one day. When people went there to check the village, they witnessed that everyone in the village was dead, including elderly women, men, children," added Ibrahim. "No one was left alive."

In an interview with VOA earlier this week, the senior adviser to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi vehemently denied that Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu are deliberately targeting civilians.

Ibrahim says human-rights abuses and atrocities carried out by governments supported by the United States and other western nations are strengthening anti-West sentiment in Somalia and giving moral authority to radical Islamists.

On Tuesday, the U.N. envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah said the fighting in Mogadishu has caused the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa. He suggested that people accused of committing human-rights violations in Somalia should be brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague and held accountable.