Ethiopian rebels accuse regime of blocking aid

Ethiopia’s Ogadeni rebels accused the regime in Addis Ababa on Friday of deliberately blocking international aid to their war-wracked and drought-stricken region.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) issued a statement following the announcement on Thursday that the Swiss branch of Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) was terminating its operations in the Ogaden area due to government intimidation.

“The Ethiopian regime continues to pursue a policy of collective punishment against the civilian population of Ogaden,” the rebel group said.

“Ethiopian armed forces have deliberately prevented the delivery of humanitarian aid by MSF solely for political reasons affecting thousands of innocent men, women and children,” the statement added.

The ONLF said the aid group’s withdrawal from the Ogaden was a direct result of efforts by the Ethiopian authorities to block humanitarian access.

“Deliberate starvation, denial of medical aid, extrajudicial killings and arrests and the torching of village huts have all now become commonplace in Ogaden,” the statement said.

“The authorities’ attitude towards humanitarian organisations has translated into recurrent arrests of MSF Switzerland staff without charge or explanation,” MSF said in a statement on Thursday.

In a report released in June, the New York-based organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the Ethiopian army of executing, torturing and raping civilians in the Ogaden.

The military launched an offensive against the ONLF rebels after they attacked a Chinese-run oil venture in Ogaden in April 2007, killing 74 people.

Formed in 1984, the ONLF is fighting for the independence of ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia’s oil-rich Ogaden region, whom they say have been marginalised by Addis Ababa.—Sapa-AFP

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