An air strike hit a refugee camp in southern Somalia, killing at least three people and wounding dozens of women and children, an international aid agency said Monday. Kenya’s military acknowledged carrying out an air raid but said it killed only Islamist militants.
Kenya’s military spokesman Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir blamed an al-Shabab fighter for civilians deaths, saying he drove a truck of ammunition into the camp where it exploded. Chirchir says the air force hit the truck as it drove away from an al-Shabab training camp and it caught fire. He said it proceeded into the camp to use the refugees as a human shield from being bombed again.
Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres or MSF, said 52 people were wounded, mostly women and children, when an aerial bombardment hit the camp for displaced people in the town of Jilib on Sunday. About 1,500 families had fled to the area amid Somalia’s famine earlier this year.
There was no way to immediately reconcile the different versions. Either way, civilian casualties would be a public relations issue for Kenya and could turn ordinary Somalis against Kenya’s military intervention in the lawless nation.
The group said in a statement that it was transporting the wounded to the hospital in Marere, noting it had limited surgical capacity.
Jilib town elder Ahmed Sheik Don said the planes hit a bus stop, and hit near the camp before finally hitting a base of the al-Qaida-linked Somali militants known as al-Shabab.
Chirchir said 10 al-Shabab members were killed and 47 wounded in the attack, citing informers on the ground.
Kenya sent troops across the border into Somalia in October following cross-border kidnappings blamed on gunmen from southern Somalia.
The Danish Refugee Council said it has made its first contact with an American aid worker and her Danish colleague who were kidnapped last week in northern Somalia.
“It has been some very long days as we have been waiting for signs of life. It is truly a relief that we now have received the message that they are as well as possible their circumstances taken into consideration,” said Ann Mary Olsen, the head of the Danish Refugee Council’s International Department.
Olsen said the aid agency is appealing to traditional leaders and clan elders to help release the hostages.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991. African Union troops have been engaged in fierce fighting in the country’s the capital to push Islamist militants out of their last base in the city. On Saturday, the Islamists launched an attack with two suicide bombers, killing at least 10 people. The militants said one of the suicide bombers was a Somali-American.
Published: October 31, 2011