News / Africa

Death Toll in Mogadishu Rises Amid Allegations Against AU Forces

The toll from Monday's violence in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, has risen to more than 30 dead and as many as 100 wounded.  There are renewed accusations that African Union peacekeepers are using excessive force to respond to insurgent attacks.

Hospital workers tell VOA emergency wards in the capital are filled with dozens of civilians wounded during Monday's battle between Islamist insurgents, led by al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militants, and peacekeepers of the African Union mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM.   

The violence began when insurgents lobbed mortars at the presidential palace during a military ceremony attended by senior officials of the U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government.  

Shelling from insurgents reportedly hit the Huneyn School for children and a United Nations compound.  Retaliatory shelling from African Union forces hit the al-Shabab-controlled, open-air Bakara market and residential areas.

There have been countless similar incidents in Mogadishu since 2007, when the first contingent of African Union troops arrived to protect the fragile government and key sites in the capital.  

More than 5,000 soldiers from Uganda and Burundi are deployed in Somalia.  With al-Shabab and allied groups becoming increasingly determined to topple the government and take over the city, the fighting between the two sides has steadily intensified.   

Mogadishu resident Moa Dahir says he has spent the past year going door-to-door and visiting hospitals to collect data on the number of people killed and wounded in battles between insurgents and peacekeepers.  

He says while insurgent actions have caused a number of civilian casualties, AMISOM shells have wiped out entire families. "I would like to inform the international community to stop AMISOM because AMISOM is not doing anything other than killing innocent people," said Dahir.

International human rights groups have also repeatedly criticized AMISOM for indiscriminately firing into crowded neighborhoods while under attack.  The New York-based Human Rights Watch group argues AMISOM's use of heavy weapons, including tanks, artillery, and Katyusha rockets, to respond to mortars and automatic weapons gives a boost to insurgents by alienating a large number of Somalis.

In a recent interview with VOA, Ugandan army commander Lieutenant General Edward Katumba Wamala acknowledged that heavy weapons are being used in Mogadishu.  But he denied the claim peacekeepers are firing back without regard for civilian lives.    

"How do you respond with an AK-47 when someone has fired a 120-millimeter mortar at you?  You cannot respond with an AK-47, which has a range of 400 meters.  You need to be able to respond with an equivalent.  And we fire where the mortars are coming from.  We can locate where the fire is coming from," said the commander.

Meanwhile, al-Shabab claimed responsibility for a roadside bombing Monday that killed at least two government soldiers, but also took the lives of two civilians and left five others wounded.

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