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When TFG and Ethiopian forces first arrived, many people felt a sense of liberation from al-Shabab but some have since convinced themselves that their situation was better when they were under the administration of al-Shabab. Their complaints are that allied Ethiopian and Somali forces in the areas of southern and central Somalia have been harsh in detention and punishment, such that people from the region believe the troops are less interested in their security and more in punishing people for their alleged support for al-Shabaab.
Somalia Report spoke with several residents about their hardships. In Beledweyne, many locals have been killed or arrested and held in prison-like conditions for long periods without charges, some of those arrested were released after weeks. Others have fallen victim to security operations carried out daily by the allied forces.
“One of my sons was killed by the Ethiopian forces during an operation, and three weeks before they detained another son. I still don’t know where he is, I have yet to see him after he was arrested by the Ethiopians,” said Halimo Hashi, a mother whose son Ali Hassan is detained by Ethiopian troops in Beledweyne. “I was told that he is held in a military zone where no civilians can go, so I’m persuading myself that I may see him again,” she added sadly.
Halimo is not alone, many families have members who were arrested in military operations, but what is remarkable is that they don't know where their family members are held, even whether they are still in the country, which puts terror the hearts of families who fear mistreatment at the hands of the Ethiopians.
Some of those released from detention in Beledweyne have told their stories to Somalia Report. “I was walking alongside the road and walked into a cache of Ethiopian soldiers. I didn’t have a chance to escape and if had tried to move, I would have been killed,” said Mohamed Ali, a young boy living in Beledweyne. “I was imprisoned and though I was mistreated, I got my freedom again,” he added. “When I was jailed, I was accused of supporting al-Shabab and I denied that, but no one would listen, and my release came due to efforts from my relatives,” said Mohamed.
Residents living in the Ethiopian and the TFG-controlled tell of fear and anxiety, they hide in their residences, afraid of being arrested or killed as no one will speak up for them. “How many unarmed and innocents have been abused by the allied forces? You can see that none of the forces have faced court or punishment for abuse or killing us, so I can say unless the law becomes impartial for the people, neither government nor civilians will be successful,” Rage Jama, an elder in Beledweyne, told Somalia Report.
Similar problems are described other areas where Ethiopian troops are policing, including Baidoa and Bardale in the Bay region. Ethiopians in Baidoa have held numerous residents without charges after explosions, or even after military operations are finished, which affect their families greatly. Although Ethiopians may suspect those arrested of criminal charges, many locals are see the detentions as punitive, revenge or colonial in nature, considering the historical enmity between Somalia and Ethiopia.
“Here, many people were arrested and even tortured, including a well-known elder Mohamed Ali Kalaay, former minister of higher education. Do you think that Kalaay and those like him could be al-Shabaab? Certainly not, so we argue that our rights have been transgressed,” said a relative of a prisoner in Baidoa. “If we would see a captured defendant charged in court, having a lawyer, and then punished or freed, then we could accept this,” he added.
Civil society groups and human rights advocates consider these military detentions inhumane, because they say no courts or agencies of justice been established in cities like Beledweyne or Baidoa, so it is very hard to secure against abuses of human rights. “It is obvious there are abuses against innocents and it is clear they will continue until law and order are returned,” said an advocate for human rights in Baidoa who requested to hide his name.
Transitional Federal Government officials (TFG) in the disturbed areas accuse al-Shabaab, saying they are hiding amongst the population. “If we could thoroughly capture the criminals -- civilians are not willing to inform on them. We know al-Shabaab don't live in desolate places, but are hiding themselves among the people. So until civilians are ready to work with us on security, the problem looks like it will persist,” said a Somali police commander in Baidoa. “We captured many al-Shabaab members, and identified many as al-Shabaab after investigations, so I can say some of our operations led us to victory,” he added.
MPs and some former mayors and commissioners from the occupied regions have repeatedly accused the central government of undermining security of the rural areas. Yusuf Daba-Geed is a former commissioner of Hiiraan Region. “Hiiraan region, including Beledweyne, was safe when al-Shabaab was in control, and I’m very worried about how these detentions became acceptable,” said Daba-Geed, speaking to a local radio station. The TFG has attempted to establish an administration for Baidoa and Beledweyne and failed.
Ethiopians refuse to talk about their military offensives and operations with Somali media, and move independently, and while they sometimes meet with locals elders and traders to negotiating security, they don’t pass thorough the TFG.
The TFG has great respect for the Ethiopians because they have fought against al-Shabaab and lost many soldiers, due to which they have seized much of western and central Somalia. It is not as easy to blame them as many of the Somali populations believe. Although the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has not detained as many people as Ethiopian troops have, they have been accused of bombarding civilian areas under al-Shabaab control. The Kenyans who continue to fight against al-Shabaab in Lower Juba region equally are not accused of indiscriminate detentions.
Somalis need peace and security after 20 years of civil war. Yet how can the armies and allied nations battling with al-Shabab restore law and order without the indiscriminate use of force?