Ethiopia’s Ogaden rebels warn of ‘African genocide’

Ethiopian rebels on Thursday urged the world to bring an end to an army crackdown in the restive Ogaden region, warning that another ”African genocide” was unfolding.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) said thousands of displaced civilians had fled to neighbouring Somalia without food and medicine over the past four months.

”We call on donor nations to bear pressure on the Ethiopian regime to end its brutal campaign against our civilian population and allow international journalists and humanitarian organisations to travel and operate freely in Ogaden,” the ONLF said in a statement.

”The United Nations bears a particular responsibility to thoroughly investigate war crimes in Ogaden and halt the unfolding of yet another preventable African genocide.”

The Ethiopian government rejected the allegations, saying it had ”never launched any campaign against civilians in Ogaden”.

”These allegations are a calculated diversion tactic by the terrorists,” said Bereket Simon, an adviser to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. ”[The] ONLF is a terrorist organisation. The fight against terrorism will continue, but [it] has never undermined the rights of the people.”

The Ethiopian military launched a crackdown on the region, which is about the same size as Britain and has a population of about four million, following an attack by the ONLF rebel group against a Chinese oil venture in April that left 77 people dead.

”It is clear that the Ethiopian regime’s policy in Ogaden continues to be a campaign of state-sponsored terror that largely avoids engagements with ONLF forces and instead focuses on collectively punishing our civilian population,” the rebel statement added.

UN humanitarian chief John Holmes last week denounced Addis Ababa’s decision to expel two global charities — Médecins sans Frontières and the International Committee for the Red Cross — from the area for allegedly meddling in politics.

The United States top diplomat to Africa, Jendayi Frazer, also told Addis Ababa to minimise civilian casualties during the crackdown.

Human rights groups have accused the government of imposing an economic blockage on the region, which has suffered from recurrent bouts of flooding and drought.

The ONLF also called on the UN to deliver humanitarian supplies to fleeing civilians, some from razed villages and a number of whom are victims of rape, torture and gunshot wounds.

Many have arrived in the northern Somali town of Bosaso in a bid to take perilous boat rides to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, the group said.

”To do this, the United Nations must have access to all parts of Ogaden and not be limited to routes approved by the regime as was the case with the recent UN fact-finding mission. These fleeing civilians provide the best testimony of the policy of collective punishment being pursued by the Ethiopian regime in Ogaden.

”The plight of these families shows the world that despite the regime’s denials, war crimes continue in Ogaden,” the rebels said.

Predominantly barren, the Ogaden has long been extremely poor, but in recent years the discovery of gas and oil has brought both hopes of wealth and new causes of conflict. Insurgent activities have scuppered efforts to carry out conclusive explorations.

Ethiopian authorities have accused arch-rival Eritrea of supporting the Ogaden separatists. The Eritreans have denied the accusation.

Formed in 1984, the ONLF is fighting for the independence of ethnic Somalis in Ogaden, who they say have been marginalised by Addis Ababa. — Sapa-AFP

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