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US Turned Blind Eye to Somalia Abuses: Rights Group


Ethiopian soldiers guard a massive cache of weapons recovered throughout Mogadishu in 2007. Ethiopia has completed the withdrawal of its troops from Somalia where they were deployed two years ago to help the Somali government fight an Islamist insurgency. (AFP/File/Stringer)

ADDIS ABABA - The United States has turned a blind eye to abuses by its allies in Somalia and worsened the situation there by reducing a complex conflict to a front in its "war on terror," a leading human rights group said.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said in a letter to African Union Commission chairman Jean Ping that the policies of many governments had been destructive in Somalia.

"U.S. policy on Somalia has been particularly unhelpful, treating Somalia's complex realities as a theater in the 'war on terror' while turning a blind eye to rampant abuses by the Ethiopian and transitional government forces," HRW said in the letter that was handed to reporters at an AU summit on Sunday.

The letter was sent to Ping late last month.

U.S. ally Ethiopia sent its army into Somalia to topple an Islamist administration in Mogadishu and rescue the Western-backed transitional government at the end of 2006.

At least 10,000 civilians were killed in an ensuing Iraq-style insurgency that also created more than a million refugees and fomented piracy in shipping lanes off the coast.

The Ethiopians withdrew last month and Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a moderate Islamist who led the sharia courts government overthrown by them, was elected on Saturday as Somali president, raising hopes that a way can be found out of the conflict that has torn Somalia for 18 years.

Ahmed has made positive noises toward the new U.S. administration of President Barack Obama, saying Washington's policy toward Somalia was positive and honest.

"America has become a force which supports peace," he told an Egyptian newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.

Human Rights Watch said all sides in the conflict over the last two years had committed war crimes and human rights abuses.

It accused Europe of sending aid to Somali police without insisting on accountability for serious crimes and said Eritrea had provided arms to fighters in Somalia as part of a proxy war against Ethiopia.

HRW called on the AU, whose leaders are meeting until Tuesday in the Ethiopian capital, to ask the U.N. Security Council to establish a commission of inquiry into rights abuses in Somalia.

(editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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