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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Somalis refuse to bury dead until state admits killing them in US-backed raid

The ten were shot dead when Somalia's army, supported by US troops, carried out an operation in Bariire village, about 50 kilometres from the capital on Friday

Relatives gather to look at the bodies of ten people killed in a US-backed military raid in the Somali village of Bariire on August 25, 2017. Mohamed Abdiwahab / AFP
Relatives gather to look at the bodies of ten people killed in a US-backed military raid in the Somali village of Bariire on August 25, 2017. Mohamed Abdiwahab / AFP

Somali families are refusing to bury the bodies of 10 loved ones, including three children, until the government takes responsibility for killing them in a US-backed military raid, officials said on Sunday.

The ten were shot dead when Somalia's army, supported by US troops, carried out an operation in Bariire village, about 50 kilometres from the capital on Friday.

Ali Nur, the deputy governor of the surrounding Lower Shabelle region, said the bodies would be stored until the government pays compensation.

"We refused to bury them because the government has denied and it still has not directly admitted it killed the civilians," said Mr Nur.

"The government should admit it killed the civilians and then compensate."

Authorities converted a refrigerated lobster truck into a mortuary to hold the bodies, he said.

The US Africa Command on Friday said American forces were involved in the Bariire operation in a supporting role and that it was investigating reports of civilian casualties. It gave no immediate fresh comment on Sunday.

Somalia's army initially said all the dead were members of Al Shabab, the militant group it is fighting with help from US and African Union forces, but later acknowledged that some civilians had died.

The government says it has formed a team to investigate the incident.

Local elders said the US troops had been unwittingly drawn into clan-fighting in the area, particularly around Bariire, the centre of a feud between two powerful and well-armed groups.

Lawmaker Dahir Amin Jesow said those killed were farmers who had armed themselves in defence against a rival group.

"How would you feel if your own government kills your brothers and labels them as militants?" asked Hassan Mohamed, a cousin of one of the deceased.

"We want them to admit, apologise and compensate. Otherwise there will be no peace."

Local elders and ambulance drivers who ferried the bodies confirmed that the dead were stored in the truck.

"The government wants the bodies buried prior to investigation but we will not. We shall have the bodies inside the truck even for a month," said elder Mohamed Hussein.

The Bariire operation is likely to provoke questions in Washington about the growing US footprint in Somalia, which has been torn apart by civil war since 1991. A US navy seal was killed in Somalia in May, the first American combat death there since 1993.

The White House has granted the US military broader authority to carry out strikes in Somalia against Al Shabab.