Category: "Ogaden Ethiopia"

Ethiopia arrests 8 suspects in oilfield attack

March 30th, 2008

Ethiopia arrests 8 suspects in oilfield attack

ADDIS ABABA, March 30 (Reuters)
– Ethiopia said on Sunday security forces had arrested eight men suspected in connection with a deadly rebel raid last year on a Chinese-run oil field.

The state-run Ethiopian News Agency said the detainees belonged to the separatist Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which killed 74 people during the April 2007 attack in the remote eastern Ogaden region.

It said they were also accused of taking part in a grenade attack in the regional capital, Jijiga, where two people died.

"These suspects in the terror acts had roles ranging from serving as accomplices to coordinating the atrocities committed against civilians," the report said.

It listed eight names and said investigations were continuing, but did not say when or where they were arrested.

The ONLF say they are fighting for autonomy for their ethnically Somali region. Both the government and rebels accuse each other of grave rights abuses, and aid workers say nearly a million people there need humanitarian help. (Reporting by Tsegaye Tadesse; Writing by Daniel Wallis) (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/)

Ethiopia - The Ogaden: a forgotten war draining a forgotten people

March 23rd, 2008
A boy takes care of a herd of cattle near Degahabur in the Ogaden region in Ethiopia. Photograph: Aaron Maasho/AFP/Getty Images

Ethiopia - The Ogaden: a forgotten war draining a forgotten people

Fears of famine are rising in the country's troubled and barren eastern badlands

Simon Tisdall in Jijiga, eastern Ethiopia

The Guardian,

Monday March 24 2008

The road from Harar runs for more than 600 miles east towards the border with Somalia, penetrating deep into the desiccated badlands of the Ogaden desert, the dusty heart of Ethiopia's war-torn Somali regional state.

Sparse scrub and thorn bush, brown termite mounds, and flocks of bony sheep edge up against the burning asphalt strip. Wandering camels are a hazard to traffic; but vehicles are few. Like the occasional herdsman, standing outside transportable mudul huts, they stare in mild surprise as white UN Land Cruisers race by.

The road's destination is Gode, via the regional capital of Jijiga, and the towns of Kebri Beyah, Degehabur and Kebri Dehar. But the part-finished two-lane road also blazes a figurative path, unwelcome to some, into the isolated and disputed fiefdoms of one of the world's most opaque, dangerous and misunderstood Muslim insurgencies.

This is the land that the self-styled separatists of the Ogaden National Liberation Front claim as their own. Exactly what the ethnic Somalis of the ONLF want - autonomy, independence, or the historic dream of a "greater Somalia" - is far from clear. What is certain is the federal government in Addis Ababa, dominated by Orthodox Christian Tigrayans and Amharans, is determined the Sunni insurgents' aims will not be achieved by violence.

Deep in these desert wastes lie the Somali state zones (provinces) of Degehabur, Fik and Qorahay. It is here, largely unseen and unreported, that the Ethiopian army, backed by rival sub-clans, has waged a violent nine-month-long campaign against factions of the Ogadeni clan, the backbone of the ONLF.

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Special Section: Ogaden Ethiopia

And it is here, in this wilderness of endless, shimmering horizons, vast untapped resources and suspected oil reserves that the UN says up to 4.5 million could soon face famine-like conditions, partly as a result of the conflict.

"There are strong reasons to believe such a catastrophe could occur in the next few months if all the necessary action to avert it is not taken," John Holmes, the UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, warned in December.

Federal and state officials dismiss such claims as wildly exaggerated, saying six of Somali state's nine zones, where the majority of the region's population lives, are peaceful. While conceding there may have been "a few problems" involving individual soldiers, ministers insist ONLF claims of ongoing atrocities committed by Ethiopian troops - claims supported by Human Rights Watch - lack foundation.

"The situation is very calm now. We have destroyed [the ONLF]," said Abdullahi Hassan, the Somali state president. Pointing to continuing strife in next-door Somalia, where Ethiopian and African Union troops support the western-backed Transitional Federal Government against hardline Islamists and warlords, he said the trouble was not homegrown.

"If there is a problem with your neighbour, the problem will touch you. For years Somalia has been harbouring international terrorists linked to al-Qaida and anti-peace elements," Abdullahi said. And much of the unrest was being orchestrated by Eritrea, Ethiopia's long-time enemy, he claimed.

Abdi Mohmmad Omer, Somali state security chief, said: "The war is no longer between the ONLF and the government, it is clan against clan, against some of the Ogadeni who are connected to al-Qaida."

Abdi also said the region had been "pacified". But he said about 200 civilians had been killed in clan fighting with the ONLF in the past two months. While declining to estimate how many had died since the conflict escalated last summer, he dismissed as absurd ONLF claims that a genocide was taking place.

Sulub Abdullahi Mohammad, an elder of the Jedwaq tribe, said his people, like the Wayteen and Balaad sub-clans, regularly confronted the ONLF militants who, he said, still posed a serious threat. He pointed to a recent bombing and shooting in Jijiga in which a traffic policeman and a bystander were killed. "The number of deaths is uncountable. The fighting has gone up and down in the past six months. But it is not over."

Trying to get people to describe what is happening is difficult. Much of the population comprises semi-nomadic pastoralists who tend to eschew foreign media. Down the Harar road, in the crowded, unpaved streets of Degehabur, a market town of 60,000, residents seem caught between concern over how the authorities might react and fear of insurgents. Few talk openly.

One woman, speaking tearfully inside her house, tells a female reporter she was raped by a soldier. But she insists her name not be publicised. She can provide no "evidence". She has, she says, much shame - and no hope of justice.

Nur Arab, Degehabur's administrator, does not pretend problems do not exist. He says there has been "a big change for the better" since the UN and NGOs returned in strength recently, having been largely excluded during the army crackdown. Most of the town's residents have received food aid, he said.

"The ONLF has no base here. They are not organised. But sometimes they come into the streets and they disturb the people," Nur said. "They are in groups of 15 or 20 maximum. They are often very young. They demand money and help from the people. If somebody does not give, they will kill them. They appear, then they disappear."

Following earlier warnings, the UN says relief work is proceeding relatively unimpeded. Nineteen NGOs have returned to the area. Others may follow.

An extra $600,000 (£300,000) has been allocated to the World Food Programme to help Ethiopia deliver supplies. But "the humanitarian situation within the military operational area continues to be of concern," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. It suggested a bigger, natural problem was that the rains had failed in several zones and crop output was declining. The UN launched a $4m drought appeal this month.

Even if the situation has eased, there is no end in sight to the conflict. The ONLF has again accused Addis Ababa of killing and starving thousands. It claimed the UN had been duped into collaborating. The government was using aid as a political tool. "Ethiopia is doing all [this] to suppress the people's resistance against tyranny and violation of their human rights." The insurgency might intensify, it warned.

As if they did not know it, for the troubled clans of the Somali regional state a long hard road awaits. In the Ogaden, it has always been thus.

Ethiopia - Ethiopian girl survives troop massacre

March 22nd, 2008
SURVIVOR: Ridwan Hassan Sahid says Ethiopian troops rounded up people in her village, accusing them of being rebels. All were killed but Sahid, who survived among a heap of corpses.Abukar Albadri / For The Times

Ethiopian girl survives troop massacre

By EDMUND SANDERS

Los Angeles Times

Source: Los Angeles Times

NAIROBI, Kenya | The teenager awoke under a pile of corpses to a pricking sensation on her face. Ants were biting her eyelids and the inside of her mouth.

The pain, however, brought relief to the 17-year-old. “I thought, I’m alive,’ ” Ridwan Hassan Sahid remembers. She felt blood oozing from rope burns around her neck and the weight of a body against her back. But fearing that the Ethiopian soldiers who had left her for dead in a roadside ditch would return, she quickly brushed away the ants, shut her eyes and slipped back into unconsciousness.

The assault and miraculous escape is one of the most chilling stories to emerge from an unfolding tragedy in eastern Ethiopia that largely has escaped the attention of a world transfixed by the humanitarian crisis in neighboring Sudan’s Darfur region.

Ever since exiting colonialists arbitrarily stuck a triangle-shaped wedge of land with 4 million ethnic Somalis inside Ethiopia’s border, violence and suffering has plagued the region. Now, many of them have been caught up in a war between the Ethiopian government and a separatist group known as the Ogaden National Liberation Front.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed and tens of thousands were displaced in the past year alone, although exact figures are unknown because the area is remote and Ethiopian officials restrict access to humanitarian groups and journalists.

Survivors such as Sahid offer the only glimpse into the unfolding tragedy. Now living in a secret location, the petite young woman shared her story recently.

Now 18, Sahid at times seems to be an average teenager, picking absent-mindedly at her henna-stained fingernails and blushing when strangers express interest in her. But behind her soft brown eyes is a weariness that belies her age, and a necklace of scar tissue rings her throat where the rope cut into her skin.

She recounts her ordeal without emotion. Only occasionally does her veneer crack long enough for a tear to roll down her check, which she self-consciously laughs off and wipes away.

“I wonder sometimes,” she says, “what kind of life I can have now.”

She grew up in the village of Qorile with eight siblings. The family, like most everyone else in the area, were semi-nomadic cattle and sheep herders.

Ever since she can remember, Ethiopian authorities were seen as the enemy.

“We feel as if we are living under occupation,” she says. “We grew up afraid of them.”

The Ogaden conflict dates to the 1940s, when after World War II European nations lost or began to relinquish their colonies in the Horn of Africa. After some years under British administration, Ogaden and surrounding areas were placed under Ethiopian control, but the decision was never accepted by the ethnic Somalis living there, spurring two wars between Ethiopia and Somalia and spawning a string of rebel movements seeking autonomy or unification with Somalia.

Ethiopian officials accuse the Ogaden rebels of using terrorist tactics. In April 2007, the rebels killed more than 70 people at a Chinese-run exploration facility in the region.

The attack prompted what aid groups and witnesses call a heavy-handed response by the Ethiopian government. Troops are accused of burning down villages believed to be sheltering rebels, forcibly recruiting young men into government militias, raping women and imposing a commercial blockade that sent local food prices and malnutrition rates soaring.

“They used mass indiscriminate measures to collectively punish the entire population,” Human Rights Watch researcher Leslie Lefkow said.

Ethiopian officials deny any widespread human-rights abuses and blame rebels for the violence. “They are working with internationally known terrorists,” said Zemedkun Tekle, spokesman for Ethiopia’s Information Ministry.

Sahid says her family tried to stay out of the fray: “We are not political people.”

But she found herself caught in the middle in July, when several hundred Ethiopian troops surrounded her village. Her father was away tending animals in the fields, and her mother was shopping in a nearby town. Sahid was washing her face when soldiers kicked in the door that morning.

“You are guerrillas,” they shouted as the ransacked the house, stealing food and supplies, Sahid remembers. She escaped out a back door and huddled with other frightened villagers. Soon soldiers gathered them all at a water well and began reading names from a list of “spies” and rebel sympathizers.

“Nobody knew who would be selected, but you knew if your name was called, you would be killed,” says Fathi Abdulla, 22, a cousin from the same village. Sahid froze when she heard her name called. She and 10 others were taken to the town’s school, which became a makeshift prison for interrogation and torture. “They took us one by one,” Sahid says.

Soldiers accused Sahid of bringing supplies to rebels. They tied her hands and legs together behind her back. “They kicked me and stepped on my back,” she says. “I told them that in my whole life, the only person I’ve ever helped was my mother.”

The next morning, Sahid and the other prisoners were marched for hours to another village. “They beat us like animals when we couldn’t keep up,” she says. “Mentally, I was already dead. I was just waiting to die.”

Arriving at the village, Sahid says she watched as soldiers looted the town and burned down all the huts. That night, none of the prisoners slept, fearing what the next day would bring.

At daybreak, without explanation, soldiers began executing them, Sahid says. Two were hanged from trees. Two others were choked with metal rods and rope.

Sahid was the last attacked. She remembers hearing the others scream and beg for mercy but couldn’t move or make a sound herself. “At that point, I was like a tree. I had no feeling. I was like a statue.”

Two soldiers ordered her into to the ditch, but she refused. Finally one pounced, strangling Sahid with a metal rod used to clean guns. They struggled for a minute, but she did not lose consciousness and the soldier gave up.

Next, two exasperated soldiers grabbed the girl and tied a rope around her neck. They pulled in different directions until she collapsed into the ditch.

The next thing Sahid remembers were the ants. Blood streamed from her nose and neck. Her legs were trapped under a man’s naked body. She says she closed her eyes again, uncertain whether she would live or die.

Back in her village, friends and family formed a search party, following the soldiers’ footprints to find Sahid and the others. They expected to recover nothing more than bodies.

After several hours of walking, a group of nomads told them about a nearby field with some bodies. Remarkably, they said a young girl was still alive. “We rushed to the place,” Abdulla says. The scene was grisly. Two men hung from nooses in a tree. Other victims lay naked, with belts and ropes still around their necks.

Sahid was in the ditch, under two other bodies. “As we came closer, she opened her eyes and looked at us! We were so shocked.”

They moved her under a tree but feared the girl soon would die. They buried the other bodies and awaited help. Eventually camels were brought and friends began a weeks-long journey to secretly move Sahid out of the country.

She remembers little of the escape or her recovery. She still can’t use her right hand because of nerve damage from the beatings.

With an uncertain future, Sahid spends most days indoors. Venturing outside sometimes brings panic attacks. She says the quiet moments are the hardest to bear. “Whenever I sit for even a minute, I draw my mind back to those events. And I start to cry.”

edmund.sanders@latimes.com
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Story was also published in Kansascity.com

Ethiopia: In focus: Taking chances

March 21st, 2008

Opinion

Ethiopia: In focus: Taking chances

By Galal Nassar

Source: Al-Ahram Weekly

US bombers began pounding away at Somali positions as battles escalated between the Somali resistance and the combined forces of the invading Ethiopian army and the Somali interim government. Hardly a day passes without a bombing or assassination in Baidoa, capital of the interim government. The Americans are using their usual excuse: they are trying to kill Al-Qaeda leaders.

Somalia's Islamic resistance seems to have mastered the art of guerrilla warfare, taking control of small towns then abandoning them and disappearing into the population. It is a tactic designed to baffle and frustrate a regular army trying to fight a symmetric war. Where exactly is the enemy? Meanwhile, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Eritreans are waiting for the right moment to assault the Ethiopians.

What should the Ethiopians do?

The simplest solution would be to withdraw and live to fight another day. But this is not what Ethiopia really wants to do right now. It is still hoping to get the US and Europe to back an African contingent, along the lines of the one formed for Darfur, in Somalia. That would give the Ethiopians a chance to pull out of the country without losing face.

Alternatively, Ethiopian politicians may escalate the situation on the Eritrean front, which would give them an excuse to pull out troops from Somalia without looking as if they were running away. Or, learning from American tactics in Iraq, Ethiopia may stir up factional strife in Somalia, which would give it a breathing space and make it look more of a peacemaker than an invader. The Ethiopians may be tempted to finance and arm warlords and have them fight a proxy war against the resistance. That would create a real problem for the Somali resistance.

The worst possible situation for any resistance movement is one in which it finds itself distanced from the general population. Without firm public backing, it is hard to maintain the momentum of resistance. Let's take Hamas for example. Hamas started out as a popular group, with a large network of public institutions engaged in social endeavours. This is why it managed to survive once armed struggle started. In Iraq, this wasn't the case, for the Baath Party had extinguished all autonomous social or political activities in the country prior to the invasion. This is why the Iraqi resistance is so divided right now.

The Taliban is another case in point. In power before the occupation, the Taliban had the grassroots it needed to resume the fight once it was deposed by the invasion. Even while in power, the Taliban was locked in battle with the Northern Alliance. Later on, after Taliban leaders fled to remote mountain areas, they could count on their local supporters.

In Somalia, the situation is similar in some ways. Prior to the occupation, the militia of the Islamic Courts was in control of most of Somalia, but it hadn't yet had the chance to forge strong links with the general public. Still, even before the occupation began, the Islamic Courts had gained some military experience through its battles with the Baidoa interim government and other northern factions.

The Islamic Courts have something in common with both the Palestinian and the Iraqi resistance movements: religious zeal. But they are more clannish than the Palestinians and less sectarian than the Iraqis. So far, the Somali resistance has managed to put so much pressure on the Ethiopian occupation forces that current battles are likely to develop into a full- fledged war.

Factor in the Eritrean-Ethiopian border rivalries, the resurgence of the ONLF, and Ethiopia's efforts to stir up inter- tribal conflicts in Somalia, and the future seems to be rather dim for the Ethiopians. First of all, Eritrea is likely to escalate things on the borders with Ethiopia. Second, Ethiopia will have to deploy more troops against the ONLF. And third, the scale of resistance in various parts of Somalia may prove too much for the Ethiopians. So why is Ethiopia refusing to withdraw from Somalia?

For starters, Ethiopia wants an access to the sea. Since Eritrean independence, Ethiopia has been landlocked. Should Ethiopia pull out of Somalia and recognise the independence of both Eritrea and Somalia, it would have to learn to live without sea access or regional clout. It is not only money or trade Ethiopia is worried about, but influence and power.

Still, if Ethiopia decides to stay in Somalia while being challenged on other fronts, it may be risking utter defeat. At one point, the Somalis may start demanding the Ogaden region back. A protracted war in Somalia may therefore lead to profound changes in Ethiopia's politics and geography. Ethiopia, let's keep in mind, is not exactly an ethnically or religiously homogeneous nation. And some local clans may just be tempted to secede or grab power from the central government.

Eritrea is biding its time now, waiting for the Ethiopians to get a bloody nose in Somalia before moving in for the kill. The Ethiopians are for now banking on US support, but that may not last forever, not with Europe steadily manoeuvring to replace the US as the dominant power in Africa.

Everything is possible now, from a devastating war in Somalia to extensive confrontation in Ogaden or an Eritrean- Ethiopian showdown. One thing is sure. Ethiopia is taking too many chances.

Ethiopia rebels say killed 43 soldiers in 2 weeks

February 27th, 2008

Ethiopia rebels say killed 43 soldiers in 2 weeks

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) -
Ethiopian rebels said on Wednesday they had killed 43 soldiers during two weeks of battles in the remote Ogaden region, but the government said there had not even been fighting in the area.

"The bulk of the fighting has taken place in northern Ogaden in and around Nogob province," the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) said in a statement.

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