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An Operation for smuggling insurgents into Ethiopia foiled as Somaliland security forces arrest 34 Eritrea-trained ONLF Combatants and uncover infiltration route running through Djibouti and Somaliland

Hargeisa (SL Times) – The Somaliland Security Forces have foiled an operation for smuggling a group of combatants with suspected ONLF ties into eastern Ethiopia. All the group’s 34 members were arrested by the police. The arrests were believed to have taken place between Nov 29 and Dec 1, 2003.

The 34 suspects were remanded in custody on Thursday (Dec 4) by a Hargeisa court. According to Somaliland Police Commissioner Mohamed Egeh, state prosecutors will deal with the case in front of a Somaliland Court. The arrested men were expected to be at least charged with endangering the country’s national security and violating the country’s immigration laws.

According to police sources, a number of suspects have already confessed that all members of their group belonged to the Ogaden National Liberation Movement, an armed militia group fighting the Ethiopian government in areas inhabited by the Ogaden clan in the Somali state of Ethiopia known as Zone 5.

Though police investigations are still under way, all those who had been interrogated so far, confessed that they underwent military training in Eritrea and came to Somaliland via Djibouti.

According to sources close to the police, the suspects were among the first batch of ONLF combatants to graduate from Kalena and Addis Maskal training camps in Eritrea. Between 700 and 1200 ONLF recruits were receiving training at the two camps. The batch consisting of 100 men divided into 3 sub-groups was planned to infiltrate into Ethiopia through Djibouti and then Somaliland. At least one of the remaining two sub-groups made up of 33 men each was confirmed to have left Hargeisa for the Ethiopian border by end of last month.

However, shortly after crossing into Ethiopia on the night of Nov 27, this sub-group was intercepted within the vicinity of Bali-Gubadle village about 80km south of Hargeisa.

In the ensuing fighting, 2 ONLF insurgents were reportedly killed while another 2 were taken prisoner. A group of nomads from the area were believed to have joined the fighting along side the Ethiopian Security Forces. One of the nomads was confirmed dead while another was wounded. It was not yet known whether the Ethiopian regular security forces had take any casualties as a result of the clash. The remaining ONLF fighters (30) managed to escape going south into Zone five's hinterland. They were again intercepted at Dusmo, about 200km south of Hargeisa, located between Aware and Dhagahbur. The Ethiopians were reported to have lost 6 men in this clash. Dusmo is located in an area inhabited by members of the Ogaden clan.

Ordinary Somalilanders were shocked by the news that the ONLF was using Somaliland territory for staging infiltration operations. They were also angered by the ONLF Chairman's statement on Tuesday, that his group will respond to the Hargeisa arrests by taking reprisals against Somaliland nomads in Zone 5. Though the Ogaden co-inhabit Zone 5 with other Somali groups, the ONLF chairman claimed that the whole territory belonged only to members of his clan.

Already a number of Isaak men were reported to have been killed by Ogadeni insurgents in various parts of Zone 5. The ONLF chairman (Mr. Mohammed Omar Osman) who lives in London was interviewed by the BBC Somali Service on Tuesday. He served under the regime of Somalia’s former dictator, Siyad Barre, in the position of Admiral of the Somali Navy.

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