Following street protests in Mogadishu and elsewhere in Somalia by mothers of army trainees supposedly in Eritrea, as well as criticism from other entities, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble has created a panel to investigate the claims.
News reports had said the trainees were deployed in Ethiopia before joining Ethiopian and Eritrean forces accused of committing crimes in the historic town of Axum.
The committee will be chaired by defence minister Hassan Hussein Haji and its members will include the interior minister, Somalia’s ambassador to Ethiopia and the commander of Somalia’s army.
A coalition of opposition groups led by former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed on June 14, welcomed PM Roble’s appointment of the committee.
But some opposition politicians expressed reservations, arguing that the panel includes ministers from the accused government and suggesting that they cannot be trusted to produce an impartial report.
On February 16, Voice of America’s (VoA) Somali service reported that the idea of training Somali military recruits in Eritrea was first floated in September 2018, when President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo visited the country.
VoA indicated that the training was largely secret and independent of the command of the Somali National Army.
Earlier this year, the Somali government denied reports that its military recruits were taking part in fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Ethiopia also denied reports that Somali soldiers were fighting alongside its troops in Tigray.
Opposition presidential candidates said this week that it was illegal to send recruits to Eritrea.
But Somali officials have rejected a UN report on the matter and the opposition leaders’ criticism.
A Somali intellectual, who sought anonymity for fear of reprisal, believes the issue is more complex and the right people ‘may not be’ speaking for the trainees.
“In Somalia, the recruitment process generally goes through strict subjective assessment,” he said.
“It is known that when a potential person is to be recruited for the army, he or she must be endorsed by a clan elder, a legislator or both.”
He said doubts have been raised because traditional elders or lawmakers are not demanding to know the whereabouts of the ‘allegedly missing youths’.