By Richard Lough
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenyan security forces randomly detained, beat and humiliated ethnic Somalis living in Kenya's northeast in response to attacks blamed on Somali militants and their sympathizers, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.
Kenya's military incursion into southern Somalia in October triggered a wave of grenade attacks and low-level bomb blasts in the remote region, some of which targeted military and police personnel.
The security forces reacted with a violent crackdown on local communities, the rights group said.
"Rather than doing what they ought to do which is investigate...what has happened is an arbitrary round up of residents, some of whom have been severely beaten, some of whom have been raped," HRW researcher Neela Ghoshal told reporters.
"The response by the police has also included efforts to humiliate the local population, activities which have nothing to do with policing, nothing to do with intelligence, but seem solely designed as a form of collective punishment."
Reuters was unable to reach Kenyan police and government spokesmen on Friday to comment on the report. HRW wrote to the defense and internal security ministries in March, detailing the allegations and seeking a response, but received no reply.
In the eastern town of Garissa, about 150 miles from the Somali border, residents told HRW the security forces reacted to a November grenade attack with door-to-door raids, hauling people out of their houses and assaulting some of them.
Launching a new report, Ghoshal said she witnessed soldiers abusing detained civilians in a military camp in January. When she introduced herself and asked to speak to the base commander she was told: "There are no human rights here."
One victim told reporters that in the aftermath of a blast in his hometown of Wajir, he and dozens of others were forced to lie on a road and stare at the midday sun before being locked in a police cell.
Derow Abdi Salat said through a translator he had been left infertile as a result of the kicking he received.
HRW welcomed a military inquiry into the alleged abuses but said the investigations had so far yielded no results. The police had taken no action, Ghoshal said.
"So far there has been no accountability," Ghoshal said, adding the abuses in North Eastern province had eased since February, most likely because there had been a sharp fall in militant attacks on Kenyan soil.
The Kenyan troops in Somalia are now among more than 14,000 African Union soldiers battling the al Shabaab rebel group in the capital Mogadishu and the south. Ethiopian troops have also seized territory from the under-pressure insurgents.
On Thursday night, al Shabaab fired mortars at Mogadishu's heavily fortified presidential palace, managing to breach the sprawling compound's perimeter.
The shelling is a blow to a government struggling to persuade its people it can provide security and basic services, and to the African Union's AMISOM force propping it up.
The al Qaeda-linked militants withdrew from Mogadishu in August, although they still manage to launch sporadic attacks.
"We successfully fired at the palace last night. Ten mortar rounds landed inside," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, spokesman for al shabaab's military operations, told Reuters.
AMISOM spokesman Paddy Ankunda confirmed the palace had been targeted by mortars but said there were no casualties. He said they were working to trace where the mortars where fired from.
(Additional reporting by Feisal Omar in Mogadishu and Abdi Sheikh in Nairobi; Editing by David Clarke and Angus MacSwan)