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.
The ten were shot when Somalia’s army, supported by US troops, carried out an operation in Bariire village, about 50 km from the capital.
Ali Nur, deputy governor of the surrounding Lower Shabelle region, told Reuters the bodies would be stored until the government pays compensation – a particularly jarring action in a Muslim culture that buries its dead quickly.
“We refused to bury them because government has denied and it still has not directly admitted it killed the civilians,” Nur told Reuters.
“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.
US Africa Command said US forces were involved in the Bariire operation in a supporting role and it was investigating reports of civilian casualties. It gave no fresh comment.
Somalia’s army initially said all the dead were members of the Islamist al Shabaab militia it is fighting with help from US and African Union forces – but later acknowledged some civilians had died.
Local elders told Reuters the US troops were unwittingly drawn into clan fighting in the area, particularly around Bariire, centre of a feud between two powerful and well-armed groups.
Lawmaker Dahir Amin Jesow said those killed were farmers who had armed themselves to defend themselves 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,” he said.
Local elders and ambulance drivers who ferried the bodies confirmed 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,” elder Mohamed Hussein told Reuters. Government says it has formed a team to investigate the incident.
The White House has granted the US military broader authority to carry out strikes in Somalia against al Shabaab, which is linked to al Qaeda.