Ethiopian News and Views.

Separatist Rebels Accuse Ethiopia’s Military of Killing Civilians in Remote Region

Posted 20th November 2007

By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN

Published: November 20, 2007

NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov. 19 — Separatist rebels fighting in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia accused the government on Monday of strafing nomads in recent days at a watering hole with helicopter gunships, killing up to a dozen civilians.

The government denied the claims of attacks, which would be a deepening of a conflict that until now has been confined largely to hit-and-run clashes between rebel soldiers and Ethiopian ground forces. But Western diplomats in Ethiopia said that the government had indeed used assault helicopters and that the war in the Ogaden was intensifying.

Abdirahman Mahdi, a spokesman for the Ogaden National Liberation Front, the leading rebel group in the area, said government helicopters attacked the nomads, who were noncombatants, near the village of Gurdumi several times since Thursday. Mr. Abdirahman, who is based in London, said he had spoken to field commanders who provided detailed information, including the names of several nomads killed next to their camels. He said the Ethiopians apparently attacked the watering hole because rebel soldiers had recently killed several government soldiers in an ambush nearby.

“The Ethiopians are turning to air power because they can’t face us on the ground,” Mr. Abdirahman said.

Col. Yasaf Adankegn, an Ethiopian military spokesman, said nothing could be further from the truth. “The O.N.L.F. has repeatedly misinformed the international community,” Colonel Yasaf said. “Nothing has been happening out there. There is no fighting. The rebels have been eradicated.”

These claims and counterclaims are similar to recent, conflicting reports by both sides, each claiming a string of victories. Last week, the government said it had killed 100 rebels. The rebels denied that, saying they had killed 700 government soldiers and allied militiamen.

A Western diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for attribution, said the government had recently moved several attack helicopters to the Ogaden, a desolate corner of eastern Ethiopia.

“Unfortunately, these reports are credible,” the diplomat said. “But whether the government is using the gunships to track down rebels or for reprisals against villages, we don’t know.”

The government recently expelled several aid organizations from the Ogaden, including the International Committee of the Red Cross. It accused Red Cross workers of being rebel spies. But earlier this month, the United Nations announced that it had worked out an agreement with the government to open field offices in the Ogaden to deal with rising malnutrition rates and poor access to water.

Source: New York Times 

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