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AU: Somali militants showed dozens of bodies in stolen AU uniforms as a 'propaganda stunt'
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) ' The African Union said Friday that al-Qaida-linked militants in Somalia had dressed up dozens of their own casualties in stolen AU uniforms as a propaganda stunt. The group claimed it had killed 70 peacekeepers, but the AU said only 10 deaths were confirmed.
The dispute over the casualties comes as al-Shabab militants come under growing attack, with forces from neighboring Kenya battling the insurgents in southern Somalia, and AU and government troops chasing the militants from Somalia's capital.
The militants showed more than 60 bodies after fierce fighting Thursday, according to several eyewitnesses in the northern neighborhood of Deynile. Al-Shabab spokesman Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage said they had killed 70 AU soldiers.
But AU spokesman Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda said that only 10 AU soldiers had been killed and two were missing in action. An internal AU document seen by The Associated Press said that 38 soldiers also had been wounded.
"It's a manipulated picture," Ankunda said. "They dressed up their own casualties ... I think they've been keeping some uniforms."
The casualties occurred when AU soldiers took the last neighborhood held by Somali insurgents in Mogadishu on Thursday. Two soldiers were missing and an armored vehicle had been burned, he said. Then 10 African Union soldiers who were killed were in the hands of the AU, he said.
The AU has previously underreported casualties during fighting but Ankunda said all other soldiers were accounted for.
Photos from the scene show that some of those displayed wore flak jackets and helmets ' equipment that is issued to AU soldiers but not common among government troops or insurgents. But many other bodies were only dressed in green camouflage uniforms.
It was unclear whether al-Shabab might have acquired the uniforms, or whether some of the bodies might be government soldiers. The bodies were displayed at Elasha Biya, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the capital.
The fighting was the latest setback for al-Shabab, which is being pushed on two fronts ' by the African Union and government troops in the capital, and Kenyan forces and pro-government militias in the south.
The Kenyan forces are not far from the town of Afmadow, at a strategically important cross roads, where al-Shabab executed two men for spying on Friday.
The two men were brought into an open ground, tied to a pole and shot by masked men, said eyewitness Ahmed Mohamed.
"Some of the spectators vomited, and women cried when they saw the men being shot. They were well known to us," said Halima Abdi. "They told us to come out for a religious sermon then they brought the two boys and executed them. Those who wanted to flee were ordered to stay. It was awful," she said.
Al-Shabab has been weakened by internal divisions and a famine in its strongholds in the south that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Many Somalis also have expressed disgust with the suicide bombings and harsh punishments that are key tactics of the insurgency.