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Nairobi - Militia groups allied with Ethiopia and the Somali government have summarily executed seven civilians since mid-January after taking over several towns in Somalia from insurgent group al-Shabaab, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.
Ethiopia in recent months became involved again in Somalia's bloody insurgency, sending in troops to remove al-Shabaab from the towns of Beletweyne and Baidoa near the border. It had previously pulled out all its troops in 2009.
"Civilians in Beletweyne and Baidoa hoped that threats, fear, and repression would diminish with al-Shabaab's departure," said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at HRW.
"Instead, the arrival of the Ethiopian forces and their militia allies has meant that one set of abusive authorities has been replaced by another," Lefkow said.
Ethiopia's troops and the pro-government militia groups Ahlu Sunnah wal Jamaa and Shabelle Valley are being blamed for the killings, with one witness telling HRW that "in Beletweyne nowadays, killing someone doesn't need whys, it needs the militiamen to decide to kill you, and that is it."
Ethiopia's invasion in late 2006 to oust an Islamist regime, and subsequent two-year occupation, sparked al-Shabaab's bloody insurgency, coalescing support around the militants.
Support for al-Shabaab waned in face of the group's hardline application of Islamic law. The group is losing ground in face of pressure from Ethiopia, Kenya, the African Union and other pro-government forces.
However, analysts had warned that the return of the unpopular Ethiopians, who were accused of human rights' abuses during their two-year occupation, could reignite support for the struggling al-Qaeda-linked insurgents.