NAIROBI, Kenya – A leading human rights group on Tuesday accused Ethiopian troops in Somalia of killing civilians and committing atrocities, including slitting people's throats, gouging out eyes and gang-raping women.
In a new report, Amnesty International detailed chilling witness accounts of indiscriminate killings in the Horn of Africa country and called on the international community to stop the bloodshed.
Ethiopia's government said the report was unbalanced and "categorically wrong."
The London-based rights group said testimony it received suggested all parties to Somalia's conflict have committed war crimes. But it singled out Ethiopian troops, who are in the country to back Somalia's U.N.-sponsored government, for some of the worst violations.
Somalia's shaky transitional government invited Ethiopian forces into the country to help it battle Islamic insurgents. Somalia has been torn apart by years of violence between the militias of rival clan warlords.
The rights group said it obtained scores of reports of killings by Ethiopian troops that Somalis have described as "slaughtering like goats." In one case, "a young child's throat was slit by Ethiopian soldiers in front of the child's mother," the report says.
Ethiopia's Information Minister Berhanu Hailu said the report was "totally unfounded."
"Normally when they report they do not balance it out. They have to go and see the reality for themselves. They shouldn't report from abroad saying this is happening," he told The Associated Press in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
Amnesty said some 6,000 civilians were reported killed and more than 600,000 were forced to flee their homes in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, last year.
"The people of Somalia are being killed, raped, tortured. Looting is widespread and entire neighborhoods are being destroyed," Michelle Kagari, Amnesty's deputy director for Africa, said in a statement from Nairobi that accompanied the report.
The report quotes testimony from some 75 witnesses as well as scores of workers from non-governmental organizations. People are identified only by their first names to protect them from retaliation.
In one testimony, Haboon, 56, said her neighbor's 17-year-old daughter was raped by Ethiopian troops. The girl's brothers tried to defend their sister, but the soldiers beat them and gouged their eyes out with a bayonet, Haboon was quoted as telling Amnesty.
"The testimony we received strongly suggests that war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity have been committed by all parties to the conflict in Somalia and no one is being held accountable," Kagari said.
Somalia has been mired in chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other. Last year, Islamist militants took control of most of southern Somalia, including Mogadishu. Troops from neighboring Ethiopia deployed in December 2006 and ejected the Islamists from the capital.
But since then, Mogadishu has been caught up in a guerrilla war between the government and its Ethiopian allies and the Islamist insurgents.
Amnesty urged the U.N., African Union and others to act to halt the violence.