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U.S. experts identified bodies in Somalia-Meles
ADDIS ABABA, Jan 27 2007 - A small group of U.S. forensic experts were brought into Somalia to identify people killed during the recent war against Islamists, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on Saturday.
Meles said in an interview with Reuters that as far as he knew there had never been U.S ground forces in Somalia.
But "at one stage there were U.S. technical people who were brought in to help in the identification of documents and dead bodies...experts in genetic identification and so on."
He did not say who the dead people were.
Washington has never publicly confirmed persistent media reports that U.S. special forces operated in Somalia during and after a lightning two-week war over Christmas and New Year in which Ethiopian and government forces ousted Islamists who had ruled the south of the country for six months.
Asked if the experts were from the U.S. military, Meles said: "I would not be surprised if in some fashion they were associated with the Pentagon but the expertise we requested was identification of personalities who were no longer with us."
He said the operation was carried out after the major combat phase of the war was over and his forces were "tracking down bits and pieces" of the Islamist forces.
Earlier this week U.S. officials said Washington had conducted a second air strike in Somalia following a first attack two weeks previously. Meles said he knew nothing of that strike.
In the first attack, by a cannon-firing AC-130 plane on a southern Somali village, Washington said eight al-Qaeda affiliated fighters were killed.
Meles had previously said these victims were identified from forensic evidence and there were media reports U.S. special forces visited the area.
Diplomats have told Reuters U.S. personnel had been on the ground after the war, but were unable to say whether they were military or intelligence or otherwise.
After their defeat, the Islamists -- accused by Washington of harbouring al Qaeda suspects -- were driven into the southern tip of Somalia bordering Kenya.
Meles said in Saturday's interview that they no longer posed a military threat.