The African Union admitted its troops fighting militants in Somalia shot dead four civilians in a random shooting on a car in a town in southern Somalia on Saturday.
Witnesses told HOL that soldiers patrolling a street indiscriminately fired at the civilians including an elderly woman and a 9-year-old girl who were travelling in a car in Bulomarer, an agricultural town in Lower Shabelle region.
“The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has learned, with great concern, that an incident in which civilian lives were lost has taken place in Bula Marer, Lower Shabelle Region, where AMISOM troops are involved in the fight against Al-Shabaab militants.” The force said in a statement issued on Saturday night.
AMISOM said that the incident occurred during an operation to neutralize suspected Al-Shabaab insurgents in the area in which troops set up a roadblock.
“A speeding vehicle approached the roadblock and failed to adhere to repeated warnings to stop. Assuming the car to be a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED), the troops opened fire resulting in the death of four occupants of the vehicle.” It said, adding that a board of inquiry was working with Somali government to investigate the incident.
The development follows previous other incidents in which African Union troops randomly killed civilians in the horn of Africa nation.
African Union soldiers have earlier killed dozens of civilians in separate attacks, largely in Lower Shabelle region.
At least 10 civilians were shot dead by the troops in the coastal Somali town of Marka in July last year, after a bomb attack which targeted an army convoy travelling through the town.
The latest incident is a major test in the relations between African Union forces and Somali government which so far remains tight-lipped about the civilian deaths that have the potential to inflame anti-foreign forces sentiment in the region which has seen a relative stability since the ouster of Al-Shabab fighters by Somali troops backed by AU forces.
The foreign forces have shot dead two other civilians in Marka in July last year after unidentified men lobbed a grenade at a passing convoy.
The region has seen heavy fighting between allied forces and Al Shabab fighters over the last few months.
The Al-Qaeda linked Al Shabab group often uses such incidents to propel war propaganda to draw support from locals in a bid to bolster support for its deadly guerrilla war against the 22000-strong AU force in Somalia.