By Chris Tomlinson
Saturday, April 7, 2007
NAIROBI, April 6 -- Ethiopian and Somali forces might have committed war crimes during four days of heavy artillery shelling against Islamic insurgents in the Somali capital, and foreign donors could be complicit, a European Union conflict expert said in an e-mail obtained by the Associated Press.
The United States, the United Nations and the European Union have provided millions of dollars to support Somalia's fragile interim government. Ethiopian troops intervened in December to protect the government and defeat its Islamic rivals.
But Islamic insurgents and clan militiamen have fought back against government and Ethiopian troops in recent weeks. An operation by Ethiopian-backed government forces last week sparked the heaviest fighting in Mogadishu, the capital, in 15 years, leaving hundreds of civilians dead, and the tactics they used have raised concerns among E.U. experts.
The warning was made in an urgent e-mail to Eric van der Linden, the chief E.U. official for Kenya and Somalia. Van der Linden confirmed the e-mail's authenticity.
"I need to advise you that there are strong grounds to believe that the Ethiopian government and the transitional federal government of Somalia and the African Union Force Commander, possibly also including the African Union Head of Mission and other African Union officials have through commission or omission violated the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court," the e-mail said.
The e-mail's author, whose name was blanked out on the copy obtained by the AP but whose senior position was apparent from the text, went on to detail the exact statutes that may have been violated. They include intentionally directing attacks against civilians and ordering the displacement of civilians for reasons related to the conflict.
"There arise urgent questions of responsibility and potential complicity in the commission of war crimes by the European Commission and its partners," the e-mail said.
Van der Linden said he forwarded the e-mail to E.U. headquarters for legal review.
"We cannot talk at this stage about war crimes," he said. "We need to do some serious research."
In Mogadishu, residents were still burying bodies of people killed in last week's fighting. A five-day cease-fire was holding, but residents continued to flee, fearing new clashes.
Somali officials declined to comment on the e-mail, which was sent on Monday after the four-day battle ended. Solomon Abebe, a spokesman for the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry, called the allegations a "fabrication."