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Ethiopia - Fear and Cries of Army Brutality in Ogaden - NYT



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Categories: Ethiopia, Ogaden Ethiopia

Ethiopia - Fear and Cries of Army Brutality in Ogaden - NYT


A New York Times Front Page Story (above the fold).

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Ethiopia - In Ethiopian Desert, Fear and Cries of Army Brutality


The New York Times

Published: June 18, 2007

videoNY Times Video

IN THE OGADEN DESERT, Ethiopia — The rebels march 300 strong across the crunchy earth, young men with dreadlocks and AK-47s slung over their shoulders.

Often when they pass through a village, the entire village lines up, one sunken cheekbone to the next, to squint at them.

“May God bring you victory,” one woman whispered.

NY Times Video

This is the Ogaden, a spindle-legged corner of Ethiopia that the urbane officials in Addis Ababa, the capital, would rather outsiders never see. It is the epicenter of a separatist war pitting impoverished nomads against one of the biggest armies in Africa.

What goes on here seems to be starkly different from the carefully constructed up-and-coming image that Ethiopia — a country that the United States increasingly relies on to fight militant Islam in the Horn of Africa — tries to project.

In village after village, people said they had been brutalized by government troops. They described a widespread and longstanding reign of terror, with Ethiopian soldiers gang-raping women, burning down huts and killing civilians at will.

ONLF rebels. Video image by Courtenay Morris for The New York Times

It is the same military that the American government helps train and equip — and provides with prized intelligence. The two nations have been allies for years, but recently they have grown especially close, teaming up last winter to oust an Islamic movement that controlled much of Somalia and rid the region of a potential terrorist threat.

The Bush administration, particularly the military, considers Ethiopia its best bet in the volatile Horn — which, with Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea, is fast becoming intensely violent, virulently anti-American and an incubator for terrorism.

But an emerging concern for American officials is the way that the Ethiopian military operates inside its own borders, especially in war zones like the Ogaden.

Anab, a 40-year-old camel herder who was too frightened, like many others, to give her last name, said soldiers took her to a police station, put her in a cell and twisted her nipples with pliers. She said government security forces routinely rounded up young women under the pretext that they were rebel supporters so they could bring them to jail and rape them.

“Me, I am old,” she said, “but they raped me, too.”

“Me, I am old,” she said, “but they raped me, too.”

Moualin, a rheumy-eyed elder, said Ethiopian troops stormed his village, Sasabene, in January looking for rebels and burned much of it down. “They hit us in the face with the hardest part of their guns,” he said.

The villagers said the abuses had intensified since April, when the rebels attacked a Chinese-run oil field, killing nine Chinese workers and more than 60 Ethiopian soldiers and employees. The Ethiopian government has vowed to crush the rebels but rejects all claims that it abuses civilians.

“Our soldiers are not allowed to do these kinds of things,” said Nur Abdi Mohammed, a government spokesman. “This is only propaganda and cannot be justified. If a government soldier did this type of thing they would be brought before the courts.”

Even so, the State Department, the European Parliament and many human rights groups, mostly outside Ethiopia, have cited thousands of cases of torture, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial killings — enough to raise questions in Congress about American support of the Ethiopian government.

“This is a country that is abusing its own people and has no respect for democracy,” Donald M. Payne (D-NJ)

“This is a country that is abusing its own people and has no respect for democracy,” said Representative Donald M. Payne, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa and global health.

ONLF (Photo

“We’ve not only looked the other way but we’ve pushed them to intrude in other sovereign nations,” he added, referring to the satellite images and other strategic help the American military gave Ethiopia in December, when thousands of Ethiopian troops poured into Somalia and overthrew the Islamist leadership.

According to Georgette Gagnon, deputy director for the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, Ethiopia is one of the most repressive countries in Africa.

“What the Ethiopian security forces are doing,” she said, “may amount to crimes against humanity.” Human Rights Watch

“What the Ethiopian security forces are doing,” she said, “may amount to crimes against humanity.”

Human Rights Watch issued a report in 2005 that documented a rampage by government troops against members of the Anuak, a minority tribe in western Ethiopia, in which soldiers ransacked homes, beat villagers to death with iron bars and in one case, according to a witness, tied up a prisoner and ran over him with a military truck.

After the report came out, the researcher who wrote it was banned by the Ethiopian government from returning to the country. Similarly, three New York Times journalists who visited the Ogaden to cover this story were imprisoned for five days and had all their equipment confiscated before being released without charges.

Ethiopia’s Tiananmen Square

In many ways, Ethiopia has a lot going for it these days: new buildings, new roads, low crime and a booming trade in cut flowers and coffee. It is the second most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa, behind Nigeria, with 77 million people.

Its leaders, many whom were once rebels themselves, from a neglected patch of northern Ethiopia, are widely known as some of the savviest officials on the continent. They had promised to let some air into a very stultified political system during the national elections of 2005, which were billed as a milestone on the road to democracy.

Instead, they turned into Ethiopia’s version of Tiananmen Square. With the opposition poised to win a record number of seats in Parliament, the government cracked down brutally, opening fire on demonstrators, rounding up tens of thousands of opposition supporters and students and leveling charges of treason and even attempted to kill top opposition leaders, including the man elected mayor of Addis Ababa.

Many opposition members are now in jail or in exile. The rest seem demoralized.

“There are no real steps toward democracy,” said Merera Gudina

“There are no real steps toward democracy,” said Merera Gudina, vice president of the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces, a leading opposition party. “No real steps toward opening up space, no real steps toward ending repression.”

“This country [Ethiopia] has never been easy to rule.”
High-ranking Ethiopian official

Ethiopian officials have routinely dismissed such complaints, accusing political protesters of stoking civil unrest and poking their finger into a well-known sore spot. Ethiopia has always had an authoritarian streak. This is a country, after all, where until the 1970s rulers claimed to be direct descendants of King Solomon. It is big, poor, famine-stricken, about half-Christian and half-Muslim, surrounded by hostile enemies and full of heavily armed separatist factions. As one high-ranking Ethiopian official put it, “This country has never been easy to rule.”

That has certainly been true for the Ogaden desert, a huge, dagger-shaped chunk of territory between the highlands of Ethiopia and the border of Somalia. The people here are mostly ethnic Somalis, and they have been chafing against Ethiopian rule since 1897, when the British ceded their claims to the area.

The colonial officials did not think the Ogaden was worth much. They saw thorny hills and thirsty people. Even today, it is still like that. What passes for a town is a huddle of bubble-shaped huts, the movable homes of camel-thwacking nomads who somehow survive out here. For roads, picture Tonka truck tracks running through a sandbox. The primary elements in this world are skin and bone and sun and rock. And guns. Loads of them.

Camel herders carry rifles to protect their animals. Young women carry pistols to protect their bodies. And then there is the Ogaden National Liberation Front, the machine-gun-toting rebels fighting for control of this desiccated wasteland.

Rebels Live Off the Land

Lion. Radio. Fearless. Peacock. Most of the men have nicknames that conceal their real identities. Peacock, who spoke some English, served as a guide. He shared the bitter little plums the soldiers pick from thorn bushes — “Ogaden chocolate,” he called them. He showed the way to gently skim water from the top of a mud puddle to minimize the amount of dirt that ends up in your stomach — even in the rainy season this is all there is to drink.

He pointed out the anthills, the coming storm clouds, the especially ruthless thorn trees and even a graveyard that stood incongruously in the middle of the desert. The graves — crude pyramids of stones — were from the war in 1977-78, when Somalia tried, disastrously, to pry the Ogaden out of Ethiopia’s hands and lost thousands of men. “It’s up to us now,” Peacock said.

Peacock was typical of the rebels. He was driven by anger. He said Ethiopian soldiers hanged his mother, raped his sister and beat his father. “I know, it’s hard to believe,” he said. “But it’s true.”

He had the hunch of a broken man and a voice that seemed far too tired for his 28 years. “It’s not that I like living in the bush,” he said. “But I have nowhere else to go.”

The armed resistance began in 1994, after the Ogaden National Liberation Front, then a political organization, broached the idea of splitting off from Ethiopia. The central government responded by imprisoning Ogadeni leaders, and according to academics and human rights groups, assassinating others. The Ogaden is part of the Somali National Regional State, one of nine ethnic-based states within Ethiopia’s unusual ethnic-based federal system. On paper, all states have the right to secede, if they follow the proper procedures. But it seemed that the government feared that if the Somalis broke away, so too would the Oromos, the Afar and many other ethnic groups pining for a country of their own.

The Ethiopian government calls the Ogaden rebels terrorists and says they are armed and trained by Eritrea, Ethiopia’s neighbor and bitter enemy. One of the reasons Ethiopia decided to invade Somalia was to prevent the rebels from using it as a base.

The government blames them for a string of recent bombings and assassinations and says they often single out rival clan members. Ethiopian officials have been pressuring the State Department to add the Ogaden National Liberation Front to its list of designated foreign terrorist organizations. Until recently, American officials refused, saying the rebels had not threatened civilians or American interests.

“But after the oil field attack in April,” said one American official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, “we are reassessing that.”

American policy toward Ethiopia seems to be in flux. Administration officials are trying to increase the amount of nonhumanitarian aid to Ethiopia to $481 million next year, from $284 million this year. But key Democrats in Congress, including Mr. Payne, are questioning this, saying that because of Ethiopia’s human rights record, it is time to stop writing the country a blank check.

In April, European Commission officials began investigating Ethiopia for war crimes in connection to hundreds of Somali civilians killed by Ethiopian troops during heavy fighting in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital.

Women Are Suffering the Most

In the Ogaden, it is not clear how many people are dying. The vast area is essentially a no-go zone for most human rights workers and journalists and where the Ethiopian military, by its own admission, is waging an intense counterinsurgency campaign.

The violence has been particularly acute against women, villagers said, and many have recently fled.

Asma, 19, who now lives in neighboring Somaliland, said she was stuck in an underground cell for more than six months last year, raped and tortured. “They beat me on the feet and breasts,” she said. She was freed only after her father paid the soldiers ransom, she said, though she did not know how much.

Ambaro, 25, now living in Addis Ababa, said she was gang-raped by five Ethiopian soldiers in January near the town of Fik. She said troops came to her village every night to pluck another young woman.

“I’m in pain now, all over my body,” she said. “ I’m worried that I’ll become crazy because of what happened.”

Many Ogaden villagers said that when they tried to bring up abuses with clan chiefs or local authorities, they were told it was better to keep quiet.

The rebels said thats was precisely why they attacked the Chinese oil field: to get publicity for their cause and the plight of their region (and to discourage foreign companies from exploiting local resources). According to them, they strike freely in the Ogaden all the time, ambushing military convoys and raiding police stations.

Mr. Mohammed, the government spokesman, denied that, saying the rebels “will not confront Ethiopian military forces because they are not well trained.”

Expert or not, they are determined. They march for hours powered by a few handfuls of rice. They travel extremely light, carrying only their guns, two clips of bullets, a grenade and a tarp. They brag about how many Ethiopians they have killed, and every piece of their camouflage, they say, is pulled off dead soldiers. They joke about slaughtering Ethiopian troops the same way they slaughter goats.

Their morale seems high, especially for men who sleep in the dirt every night. Their throats are constantly dry, but they like to sing.

“A camel is delivering a baby today and the milk of the camel is coming,” goes one campfire song. “Who is the owner of this land?”

Will Connors contributed reporting from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


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Comment from: Boxoo [Visitor]

Ya a!!!

Thank you NY Times for giving such a great attention and coming out with these story. It is a great assistance to the strugle for freedom and democracy in the country. Great story. Very factual.



06/18/07 @ 00:19
Comment from: zerish [Visitor]

I’m not WOYANES fan, but I respect their action againist enemy of development of Ethiopia like ONLF. Ethiopia should take more serious action againist this idiot rebels.

06/18/07 @ 00:42
Comment from: ashenafi1 [Visitor]

ONLF is trying to spin propoganda and get
an international attenion. Ogaden is and
will always be an Ethiopian, come what may.

06/18/07 @ 00:51
Comment from: Tewodros salsawi [Visitor]
Tewodros salsawi

Where ever there is oil in Africa. It is expected from western media to instigate ethnic conflicts.

If there is oil somewhere they have to control it. Otherwise they will destroy you with their weapon(media not nuclear).

The media is the strongest weapon these days. Now that China is involved in the utilization of the oil in Ogaden the west are going to do their best to creat some chaos arround there. The easiest way to do that is to disseminate these kind of stories on this article.

Ethiopians should be wise on handling this case. These people are the incarnation of the devil. They have all the means and the heart to do evil things. Where ever there is precious natural resource there is such kinds of stories on first pages of media of the west.

I pray to god so that the rule of evile ends in the world.

How long shall we bow to these spawns of devil?

06/18/07 @ 00:57
Comment from: fish [Visitor]

Zerish It is good at list now you understad being or called WOYANE is a shame because of what they are doing and thinking.Since you support their did you are primitive too like them and you have to be ashamed.

06/18/07 @ 00:59
Comment from: Abdul [Visitor]


What Develepment are you talking about! Raping and killing innocent people, is that what you call development.

This region has ONE HIGH SCHOOL, forget about hospitals.

The TPLF led regime is the worst. never in Ethiopain history we seen RAPE. Even during Mingestu if soldier commits any crime there was consequence. But the current regime promotes any soldier who kills and rapes innocent peopl.

I am from there and I know what is happening there.

Thanks to NY Times Journalist, even though Meles soldieres prisoned them and confiscated their equipment they were able to send some clips from ogaden heartland.


06/18/07 @ 01:03
Comment from: Tamrat [Visitor]

Remember our struggle against derg. We
were so desperate we allied with
‘evry thing’ against derg by the so called
policy of the the enemy of my enemy is
my friend. Look what brought to us. We
worked hand in hand with eplf and eprdg.

No more arm struggle! War between brothers
must be stopped for once and for all in ethiopia. the peacefull struggle which is
bringing a tremendous change in ethiopia
will continue. And the defense force will
take care of eplf and its allies.

those who dont see the change eprdf
made on its policy slowly but surely are
ignoring the sacrifice the Ethiopian people
have done through out the last 16 years.

Remember we eprdf wanted to unite the
Ethiopian arilinse with the eritrean
while they even dont have a single airplane.
And we used to boycott melotti and eprdf
used to sell meloti by putting bedelle
trade mark on meloti. But now eprdf is
fighting against isayas to keep the ethiopian interest. this is the result
of our heros sacrifice. and they didnt
take arm, olny peacefull democracy struggele.

(melles landed a jet in asmara to pick
isayas up on the way to ny un meeting)

ONLF is working under the command of
eplf so it must be counter attacked and
eliminated as soon as possible.

Peace full struggle for democracy.

06/18/07 @ 01:20
Comment from: Gondar [Visitor]

Tewodros salsawi:
Good Job Man now I smell your real Ethiopian position!!!

O= Observationally
G= Guarded
A= And
D= Diversified
E= Ethiopian
N= Nature
ogaden is ours!!!

06/18/07 @ 01:23
Comment from: Atse Kaleb [Visitor]
Atse Kaleb

Armed struggle againt a government which
basiclly has a PHD in gurrela warfare
is near impossible to defeat .
Ogadeans are Ethiopinans if they are
suffering and the government is not
doing much about it,it should be up to
us other Ethiopian to help get their cause
heard more,try to help them finacialy
to devolupe their region for is’nt that
what unity is.Concering the rapes and
torture it is hard to say weather is
true or false .the ethiopian army is
highly decipled evidencec of this is
shown in the war with ertrea but even
the worlds powerful milatary are guilty
of crime such as theses.But then again
theses sort of problem of sepreation
that ethiopia continues to face by some
states has it roots in the past as
ethiopian rulers have always tried to
excerise a one religon,one culture ,
sort of policy and in the process commited
atrocities agaist certain ethinic groups
and religons.Ethiopian we generaly only
mention the good things of the past but
hide the bad in our hearts,we speak of
Atse Yohannes dedication to the Orthodox
church and of his bravery yet hide the
hatred he had for muslims ,we speak of
Atse Mililk of the conqure of and the
maker of modern day ethiopia but hide
the the suffering of the oromos, the
Eritean who were seperated from their
country and given to the Italians which
latter they fought against the ethiopian
rulers claiming that they do not wont
to be part of the empire.we all speak
of unity but true unity dose not come
by force what we saw in the war in Tigray
Afar,Eritrea and oromia is the years
of suffering and neglect.this problem
can be solved by aknowleging the suffering
of theses people and respecting their
culture and religion if
Ethiopia is to grow and prosper have
true unity .

06/18/07 @ 01:25
Comment from: ashenafi1 [Visitor]

the real real issue about ogaden is oil,
everything else is smokescreen. ONLF is gunning for the oil so is the ethiopian government. ONLF doesn’t want any development t to take place in ogaden, so they can justify their struggle for independce from ethiopia. it’s all about petro-dollars!!!

06/18/07 @ 01:26
Comment from: Ra'Oeil ራዕይ [Member]
Ra'Oeil ራዕይ

The establishment of a genuine democratic system is the ONLY viable option that can effectively solve this and other numerous problems afflicting our country.

The alternative is a doomsday scenario.

The saddest part is that Ethiopia’s TPLF/EPRDF leaders seem to think that there is an alternative to Unity in Diversity.

The separatist option they hold dear is the undoing of a whole continent and its complete and permanent subordination.


06/18/07 @ 01:38
Comment from: Aschenaki [Visitor]

No Ethiopian should take pleasure from this story regardless of your political platform. This article is a major propaganda coup for the terrorist ONLF to get their story published on the front page of The New York times.

I have not learned anything new from this story. The report is full of hearsay and just what the witnesses said. This young NYT reporter did not have any concrete evidence to support the rape and torture allegations. It is just rumor and all he is reporting is what ONLF is telling him. Just because NYT publishes does not mean it is true, if you don’t believe me ask Judy Miller and Jason Blair.

I am a nationalist Ethiopian who strongly believes in the territorial integrity of Ethiopia and someone who will never ever forgive Woyane for making Ethiopia a land locked country. Despite the hatred I have towards the TPLF regime, I am 100% with them to destroy these Islamic terrorists, especially since they killed the oil workers; I have no mercy for these tugs.

Those who are against Woyane, be careful of what you wish for. Can you imagine the worst case scenario where Woyane were to collapse with no strong party to take over and with all these so called liberation fronts, what the future of our country will be like? It will be the end of a Strong united Ethiopia. Don’t ever forget that Woyane is in power not because they fought their way to Addis, but Hodam people hated Menge more than they hated Woyane and did not have the will power to fight Woyane. And the rest is history. Who knew that there could be a government worst than Derg and here we are with Woyane who gave away our access to the sea.

As bad as Woyane is, I want nothing but a Strong united Ethiopia and do not want a sudden collapse of the Woyane regime with out a viable party to take over. Whether you like it or not, we do not have a viable party to take over at this time.

Our Flag and Country should come first before CUD, EPRDF or whatever. I am first and foremost Ethiopian and will support any government who will destroy our enemy i.e OLF, ONLF, Eritrea and so on. But I know TPLF will not destroy Eritrea until these two ugly Eritreans Meles and Bereket Simon get hanged. Pray for Ethiopia people, don’t make me see my country being like Somalia in my lifetime.

Woyane, Kill These Bastard Ogaden Shiftas. If they don’t want to be in Ethiopia, they can move to Somalia and join their brothers and sisters there. Menelik should have baptized these bastards and we wouldn’t have this problem now.

06/18/07 @ 01:42
Comment from: selamna meregagat [Visitor]
selamna meregagat

In many ways, Ethiopia has a lot going for it these days: new buildings, new roads, low crime and a booming trade in cut flowers and coffee. It is the second most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa, behind Nigeria, with 77 million people.

the society is illitrate. the top officials are trying to do the best but thoes at the ottom of the ladder seem inefficient.

if anybody thinks meles sends thoes people or his soldiers to rape, you got to be kidding me.

and onlf is asked to negotiate its demand in the proper way.

i am saddened for everything that happened. it is an outcome of stupidity in all direction and if ogadenia fighters did not cause all this hoopla( cutting necks), the government troops would have most probably never acted as such.

i think meles can properly address such flaws in the military and straighten up things.

seccesion must be illegal.
the kinijit stupids should be released.

06/18/07 @ 01:46
Comment from: Tesfaye Gabesa [Visitor]
Tesfaye Gabesa

What an indictment! Let me be ahead of time and spell what Berket will say, “This is completely untrue, there is no ONLF, but a bunch of unemployed people trying to stop a rapid development occurring in that region!

06/18/07 @ 01:52
Comment from: Aschenaki [Visitor]

Woyane needs the Ethiopian people behind it more than ever and reconciliation is possible.

1. Release all political prisoners immediately with out any conditions whatsoever.
2. Opposition members also should negotiate and perhaps join the parliament and learn give and take and not “my way or the highway” attitude. Politics is all about negotiations
3. Get Assab back by Any Means Necessary. There shall be No peace with Eritrea as long as Assab is occupied and Woyane has to Undo its mistake by forcefully taking over Assab.
4. If Meles Zenawi can not do #3 as he was not willing to do when he won the war in 2000, then someone within TPLF should remove Meles from power and do job #3
5. Fair and Free election for 2010 and Woyane should respect the will of the people and pass on power to the elected . With Amhara and Oromo being 75% of the Ethiopian population, Woyane has no shot at winning the election, so they ought to be happy to represent Tigray at Parlama and all the local administration stuff in Tigray. Or start having kids now and in 18 years, you may increase your population number, there is nothing you can do about that. You are minority and you will be protected but majority has to rule. But then again, democracy for Woyane is like shooting itself on its feet. Man, our country is fucked up.

06/18/07 @ 02:09

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