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U.S., U.N. Forces Accused of Rights Abuses in Somalia : Africa: London-based group charges failure at highest levels in military intervention. Report says troops' chief is viewed as warlord by local people.

July 31, 1993|From Reuters

NAIROBI, Kenya — An independent human rights group Friday accused U.N. and U.S. forces in Somalia of grave abuses, including the killing and torture of civilians.

A report by the London-based Africa Rights charged that the United Nations and United States failed at the highest levels in the military intervention in Somalia, launched when U.S. Marines hit Mogadishu's beaches in December.

At the United Nations in New York, Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said action would be taken if the charges are true.

But the U.N. chief, in a statement, said many assertions in the report were "spurious or based on hearsay."

"We are nevertheless extremely sensitive to the gravity of some of the allegations made in the report," he said. "If these allegations are found to be true, action will be taken against those responsible."

Abusive behavior by U.N. troops had earned the hatred of the very people they were supposed to be helping in a nation destroyed by ruthless warlords, the report added.

"Such abuses are not merely a crime; they are a blunder. UNOSOM (the U.N. Operation in Somalia) has lost the moral high ground," the report said.

The report said Somalis regard UNOSOM U.N. forces as another faction and its chief, retired U.S. Adm. Jonathan Howe, as a warlord.

Howe, who took over from U.S.-led forces on May 4, could not be reached from Nairobi for comment.

The report alleged that the 22-nation U.N. force had done little to investigate abuses perpetrated by its troops. It said U.N. officials also routinely lied to conceal the bloody cost to ordinary Somalis of the military campaign against gunmen, notably Mogadishu warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid, who is wanted for the ambush in which 24 Pakistani troops died last month.

The report singled out the 850-strong Belgian force in the southern port of Kismayu as being particularly brutal and hated as a virtual army of occupation.

Africa Rights staff who went to Kismayu listed allegations that included the murder of civilians and beatings. They quoted eyewitnesses as saying Belgian troops had killed an armed man and dragged his body through the streets behind a tank. Another man was allegedly pulled 400 yards behind a military vehicle.

Africa Rights praised the 200-strong Botswana force based in the town of Bardera as the only group that had calmed insecurity, unfailingly helped humanitarian convoys and won popularity among local residents.

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