Ethiopian PM dismisses rebel claims of deadly attacks

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on Tuesday dismissed claims that rebels from the restive Ogaden region had defeated the military and caused one of his top aides to flee.

Addressing Parliament in Addis Ababa, Meles played down rebel claims that the army had been humiliated by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and that one of his top aides had been forced into a hasty retreat.

”The ONLF claimed that they encircled the army and Abay Tsehaye was forced to escape through a helicopter. But Abay asked me how it was possible for them to surround an entire army when he himself wasn’t encircled,” Meles said.

Abay Tsehaye is a senior adviser to the prime minister on regional affairs.

ONLF spokesperson Abdirahman Mahdi told Agence France-Presse by phone from London on Monday that its fighters had killed at least 250 Ethiopian soldiers near the Wardheer and Jijiga townships.

No Ethiopian official has yet directly commented on the toll.

On Sunday, the ONLF said in a statement that most of the government deaths came in a massive attack it launched on Saturday against the army near Wardheer. The Information Ministry denied any such attack had ever taken place.

The reports could not be independently verified as journalists and aid workers have repeatedly been blocked from accessing vast swathes of the volatile region in recent months.

The Ethiopian army launched a crackdown on the region, about the same size as Britain with a population of about four million, following an attack by the ONLF against a Chinese oil venture in April that left 77 people dead.

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



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