MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia executed two government soldiers Monday accused of killing a civilian and a soldier, as the Western-backed government came under international pressure to hold its forces to account for abuses.
Somalia's government, which recently took control over the vast majority of the capital Mogadishu after Islamist rebels withdrew, is hoping to gain support for a new humanitarian force to protect food aid convoys, and is keen to show it is serious about clamping down on soldiers who commit violations.
"We caught these two soldiers red-handed. One killed a civilian and the other a soldier, so we have decided to execute them in accordance with the laws of Islam and our military court," judge Hassan Hussein Muungaab told reporters at the Mogadishu police academy where the sentence was carried out.
"They will serve a good example to all government forces, which should ensure reliable peace. This is to avoid killings and to safeguard our Somali people. Any soldier who kills a person or loots property or food at the market or in refugee camps will be executed likewise," he said.
Dozens of people watched about 15 soldiers open fire at the two soldiers, identified as Abdisankus and Abdullahi Jirow, who had been blindfolded and tied to two poles, witnesses said.
The soldiers' bodies were then buried in the field.
Earlier this month, President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed issued a decree declaring a state of emergency in areas of the capital abandoned earlier this month by the al Shabaab rebel group.
It banned clan militias from the areas and gave the military court jurisdiction to deal with crimes committed there.
The U.S.-based rights group Human Rights Watch has accused government forces of largely failing to protect civilians over the course of fighting against a four-year insurgency by Islamist al Shabaab rebels, a charge the government has denied.
The group's report accused government troops - as well as peacekeepers and insurgents -- of firing indiscriminately in civilian areas.
Witnesses have also accused government troops of looting food aid meant for famine victims.
The al Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaab rebels, who follow an austere version of Sharia law, frequently carry out beheadings and amputations in the areas they control across much of south and central Somalia.
Some witnesses said they were distressed the government was using the same tactics to bring criminals to justice.
"After more than 10 bullets hit each ... a soldier went closer to finish one man who did not die immediately and shot several bullets into his heart," witness Liban Issa said.
"It was a bit shocking, some of us could not watch directly, we were looking down. Punishing criminals is fair but the beheading, limb cutting and execution by al Shabaab and the government is not something pleasant for our minds," he added.
(Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Richard Lough and Elizabeth Fullerton)