Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

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

Vote for an informed choice

We’re dropping the paywall this week so that everyone can access all our stories for free, and access the information they need in the run up to the local government elections. To follow the news, sign up to our daily elections newsletter for the latest updates and analysis.

If our coverage helps inform your decision, cast your vote for an informed public and join our subscriber community. Right now, you can a full year’s access for just R510. Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

Paddy Harper: On gleeful politicians and headless chickens

Paddy Harper doesn’t know who to vote for yet, since the Dagga Party isn’t contesting his ward, but right now what to order for lunch is a more pressing concern

Malema: ANC will use load-shedding to steal votes

While on the campaign trail in the Eastern Cape, EFF leader Julius Malema, without evidence, claimed the ANC was planning to use rolling blackouts to ‘steal votes’

Khaya Koko: The looting isn’t over until the fat belly...

A song about Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane preventing looting was way off the mark in a province riddled with corruption and theft

Eskom will try to avoid blackouts during local government elections

Chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer said the ailing state power utility’s staff would be on standby as South Africans cast their votes on 1 November

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…