/ 24 April 2008

Ethiopia denies Amnesty mosque-killing accusations

Ethiopia criticised Amnesty International on Thursday and said the group’s accusations that Ethiopian soldiers killed 21 people at a Mogadishu mosque were ”lies” and ”propaganda”.

Amnesty said on Wednesday the soldiers, who are stationed in Somalia to bolster the interim government, had also captured dozens of children during a raid on the al-Hidaaya mosque earlier this week during operations against Islamist insurgents.

It said an imam and several Islamic scholars were among the dead, and that seven victims had their throats slit.

Zemedkun Tekle, spokesperson for the Ethiopian Ministry of Information, condemned the report.

”Amnesty’s allegations are unsubstantiated lies and propaganda that they received from Islamic groups in Somalia. Ethiopia has never been involved in such incidents,” he said.

”Ethiopia would have been surprised if Amnesty had said something positive about Ethiopia rather than its usual lies.”

Bereket Simon, President Meles Zenawi’s special adviser, also criticised the report, noting that the human rights group has no presence in the Horn of Africa nation.

”Amnesty International has no representatives on the ground in Somalia,” he said. ”It is gathering hearsay and accusing Ethiopia based on false information.”

Some moderate Islamist leaders in Somalia have postponed plans to attend United Nations-sponsored peace talks after the report was published, which came as fighting escalates in Mogadishu.

Residents said four more corpses were found in the coastal capital, bringing the death toll from this weekend’s shelling and seizure of small towns by the Islamists’ militant al-Shabaab wing to 103. The clashes were the worst in recent months.

The Islamist insurgents — remnants of a sharia courts movement ousted from their strongholds in Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia at the end of 2006 — view the presence of traditional foe Ethiopia in their country as an ”occupation”.

Civilians have borne the conflict, which a local rights group says killed 6 500 people last year. About one million of the country’s nine million people have been uprooted from their homes.

The government, which is struggling to assert its authority in Somalia and has been deprived of an effective central government since the 1991 toppling of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, has maintained its right to self-defence against insurgent attacks. — Reuters