MOGADISHU, Somalia, Jul 19 – The African Union force in Somalia said it is investigating the alleged killing of 14 civilians by Ethiopian soldiers, with witnesses saying they opened unprovoked firing on a prayer meeting.
The incident occurred late Sunday in the west of Somalia, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) from regional capital Baidoa, and involved Ethiopian troops from the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
“AMISOM has received reports of alleged civilians killed during an offensive between its troops and Al-Shabaab in Wardinle, Bay region,” the mission said in a statement posted on Twitter on Monday evening.
The Al-Qaeda-aligned Shabaab is fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government in Somalia which is defended by AMISOM troops in the capital Mogadishu and elsehwere.
AMISOM said it had “commenced investigations” and that the findings would be made public.
“Fourteen people, among them traditional elders and civilians, were killed after clashes broke out between Shabaab fighters, and Somali government troops and AMISOM peacekeepers,” said local MP Ibrahim Isak Yarow.
“They were at a prayer gathering when a Shabaab fighter started shooting in the area causing the confrontation that led to major civilian casualties.”
However, witnesses interviewed by AFP gave a different account.
“The Ethiopian forces arrived at Wardile village and targeted a houses where Koranic teachers and other civilians were staying. There was a religious gathering at the time and people were praying for a sick man,” said Mohamed Moalim Ali.
Adan Isak, another witness, said the unprovoked incident shocked local residents.
“It was a shocking tragedy. The Ethiopian soldiers opened fire indiscriminately on civilians, most of them elderly and decent religious men. Fourteen of them died on the spot and six others were wounded,” he said.
The AU peace-enforcement mission was first deployed in 2007 and now numbers around 22,000 troops.