NAIROBI, Kenya -- The U.S.-backed Somali military is conducting a deliberate campaign of torture and murder against civilians in the country's northern provinces to destroy the base of insurgents, an Australian-based aid agency said Tuesday.
The government response to a rebel offensive last spring has been so severe as to drive hundreds of thousands to hide in the bush or flee into communist Ethiopia, said a report released by the agency, Community Aid Abroad.
'The government response to the attack has been particularly brutal and without regard to civilian casualties,' the report said. 'There is ample evidence that civil casualties have been deliberately inflicted so as to destroy support' for the rebel Somali National Movement.
In the northern town of Erigavo, the base for CAA's public health work, 'looting, raping and bashing are commonplace' and a 13-year-old girl was raped by six soldiers, the report said.
A man leaving the town with money and food was robbed, beaten and shot by the military, the group added. 'His body was dumped in the town and was eaten to the waist by hyenas.'
In another town, 103 men, women and children were slaughtered in reprisal after two soldiers were killed by a land mine, the report said.
The report cited the use of torture in which soldiers stripped people naked, suspended them by ropes and dripped cold water over them in near-freezing temperatures. In another case, 13 people have been held in a 10-foot square room for four months without charges.
'In making this statement, CAA hopes to draw attention to the persecution of a large section of the population,' wrote Bruce Eady, Horn of Africa coordinator of the agency that has been in Somalia for eight years and is active in 19 other countries.
Erigavo is 160 miles southwest of the Red Sea port of Berbera, where the United States maintains a skeleton Rapid Deployment Force facility for use in emergencies.
Washington and Somalia signed an agreement in 1980 giving the United States access to Somali bases in exchange for military aid.