Five Ugandan soldiers serving in the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) will serve varied penalties, including death, after a court martial found them guilty of murdering civilians.
A decision announced on Saturday said a Ugandan Court martial found the five guilty of killing the unarmed civilians in an incident in Golweyn, Lower Shabelle region in southern Somalia, some 110km from Mogadishu.
Two of the soldiers will serve a death penalty while three others will serve 39 years in jail each in one of the heaviest punishment ever announced on Amisom troops.
Brig-Gen Don Nabasa, the Amisom Sector 1 Commander held by the Ugandan troops said the punishment will make it “clear” on the responsibilities of troops.
“As soldiers, we have the responsibility to protect lives and property…in doing so we absolutely have the responsibility to protect the civilian population,” he said in a statement.
According to Lt-Gen Diomede Ndegeya, Amisom’s key responsibility now is to ensure the fight against Al-Shabaab and other terror groups does not happen at the expense of civilians.
The names of the soldiers were not published. But the Court Martial arose out of a recommendation by a team investigating the incident who found that the soldiers operating in Golweyn area in Lower Shabelle region in Southern Somalia, about 110 km south of Mogadishu, had on August 10 killed innocent civilians.
“The seven people killed were regrettably civilians and the conduct of the personnel involved was in breach of Amisom rules of engagement.”
Amisom said that it will hold the implicated soldiers responsible in accordance with a recommendation by a six-member board assigned to conduct full enquiry.
Traditionally, each troop contributing country to Amisom has the final say on where the guilty are jailed. On Friday, Francesco Madeira, the Head of Amisom said the Mission will address all human rights violations concerns saying the Mission plays by the rules.
Independent media in Somalia had published stories of families grieving that the seven killed were innocent farmers and not members of the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab jihadists.
However, investigations also found out that on the fateful day, Amisom soldiers did, indeed, encounter Al-Shabaab fighters at the area of the incident that caused exchange of gunfire.
“In the encounter, one Amisom soldier was killed and another sustained gunshot injuries,” Amisom stated.
In August, relatives of the victims who spoke with local media challenged the peacekeepers initial denial and assertion that the victims were part of the Al-Shabaab fighters that had waged an attack on the soldiers in normal patrol.