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(Nairobi) – The government of Kenya should investigate the death of as many as 11 civilians during a Kenyan air force raid on Hosingow village in Somalia on December 20, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. Both the Kenyan armed forces and the armed group al-Shabaab should take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian casualties during military operations, Human Rights Watch said.

Two residents of the village of Hosingow in southern Somalia told Human Rights Watch by telephone that two military planes attacked the village during the afternoon of December 20. The first dropped a bomb on makeshift huts, one of which was a school, they said, killing seven children and one woman. The second strafed the village with a machine gun, killing one woman and at least two men, all civilians. The witnesses said 24 civilians were wounded in the attack and had to be evacuated as there are no medical facilities in Hosingow.

“A prompt and impartial investigation is needed into what happened in Hosingow village,” said Ben Rawlence, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “All sides need to act to minimize harm to civilians.”

Hosingow is in territory controlled by the rebel armed group al-Shabaab, but Human Rights Watch was unable to determine whether its forces were present in the town at the time of the attack.

A Kenyan army spokesman, Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir, confirmed to the media that Kenyan forces were responsible for the attack but said that no civilians had been killed.

Kenyan armed forces have been conducting military operations against al-Shabaab in Somalia since October 16.

International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, obliges the parties to an armed conflict to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to the civilian population. Attacks that target civilians or civilian objects are prohibited, as are attacks that do not discriminate between civilians and military objectives, or that were expected to cause civilian harm that was greater than the anticipated military gain. The laws of war require governments to investigate credible allegations of violations.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the Kenyan government on November 18 urging it to investigate allegations of indiscriminate use of force in the course of its Somalia campaign, called Operation Linda Nchi (Swahili for Protect the Nation). Human Rights Watch has yet to receive a response to its letter.

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