Marine Claims Self-Defense in Wounding Somali Teens
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ At least three Somalis were killed and two injured in an overnight firefight with U.S. troops, witnesses said today.
The deaths on Friday night, if confirmed, would be the latest casualties of the friction between Somalis and the foreign military force that came to protect donated food from looters and restore some semblance of order to the devastated Horn of Africa nation.
Also today, military authorities in Paris said two French soldiers were killed in a road accident between Mogadishu and Baidoa. They were the first French troops to die in the Somalia intervention.
Earlier Friday, allied soldiers shot dead five Somalis and wounded two.
At a hearing Friday, an American soldier suspected of using excessive force against Somalis last month told authorities that every Somali on the steet posed a potential threat.
American military officials confirmed an exchange of fire in a neighborhood in central Mogadishu on Friday night, but said they had no information on Somali casualties.
″The patrol took fire. The patrol returned fire. The patrol got the hell out of there,″ said Air Force Capt. Joe Davis, a U.S. military spokesman. ″If any Somalis got killed, they’re the ones who shot first.″
Five people were taken to Benadir Hospital. A nurse, speaking on condition she not be identified, said three were dead when they arrived.
A 12-year-old boy, Abdi Ali Hassan, was injured when he was hit twice in the back by bullets or fragments. Another bullet hit Abuker Abdullah Weylije, 22, beside his left eye and exited behind his ear.
Witnesses claimed the Americans opened fire when they heard gunshots from looters who had entered a nearby market. They said the shooting lasted three to five minutes before the soldiers fled.
The official report of the incident said a two-vehicle patrol was moving when it took six bursts of automatic fire from nearby alleys and rooftops. The motive for the attack was unknown, the report said.
Davis said every incident of gunfire is investigated. He wasn’t surprised the Americans were unaware of any Somali casualties.
″When there’s gunfire, they stomp the gas and get out,″ he said.
A Marine suspected of using excessive force against a Somali teen last month said foreign troops must view every Somali on the street as a menace.
″How many times in Vietnam did kids carry (explosives) into a village?″ asked Gunnery Sgt. Harry Conde, during a hearing Friday to decide whether he faces a court martial.
″Some people want us here. Some people don’t. When you’re out there, you can’t tell,″ said the 33-year-old radar technician based in Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Conde faces charges for shooting Ahmed Abdi Omar, 13, and another teen on Feb. 2 after Omar reached into the military vehicle Conde was riding in and stole the soldier’s prescription sunglasses. Omar was wounded in the abdomen by buckshot pellets, and the 17-year-old bystander was hit in the arm.
At issue is whether Conde fired for fear of his safety, or if he shot while the escaping youth for revenge. If a court-martial is ordered, Conde, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, could be charged with the military equivalent of aggravated assault and face 10 years in prison.
U.S. forces, meanwhile, handed over operation of the southern port of Kismayu to Belgian troops.
Within hours of taking command, the Belgians came under fire while investigating shots from a refugee camp outside the city. They shot four Somalis to death, then found the body of a woman who apparently had been killed by the four Somalis.
In the central Somali city of Belet Huen, Canadian forces opened fire on two men spotted crawling through barbed wire toward a building housing two helicopters. One was killed and the other wounded.
And in Mogadishu, Marines shot and wounded a man who was seen aiming a gun at their checkpoint from a hotel known as a hideout for snipers.
Despite the daily violence, Col. Fred Peck, the U.S. military spokesman, said security has improved dramatically since the coalition troops arrived Dec. 9 to safeguard food shipments in the famine-ravaged country.
″It is much safer today,″ he said. ″You don’t see weapons on the street. We think we have made remarkable progress, (but) there are going to continue to be outbreaks of violence in Somalia for the next several years.″
The human rights group Africa Watch applauded the U.S.-led military intervention in a statement Friday, but said both the United States and the United Nations have given ″thuggish leaders, unsavory and murderous characters ... a legitimacy they do not deserve.″
Africa Watch was critical that the only participants in U.N.-sponsored peace talks scheduled to begin March 15 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, are warlords. It urged the negotiations be broadened to include representatives of what is left of Somali civilian society.
The group, based in Washington, also said that despite its successes, the coalition had failed to disarm the warlords.
Somalia’s violence has its roots in the civil war, and has become virtually endemic. Although thousands of weapons have been confiscated, the possibility of assault remains very real.