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Ethiopian government is killing civilians in separatist crackdown, refugees say
Bosaso, Somalia, 14 September 2007 - The Ethiopian government is starving and killing its own people in the remote eastern Ogaden region, according to refugees.
They describe a terrifying four-month crackdown in which security forces have sealed off villages, torched homes and businesses, commandeered food and water sources, and beaten, raped or executed anyone who resists.
Hundreds of civilians already may have been killed in the crackdown on a separatist movement known as the Ogaden National Liberation Front, according to interviews with dozens of Ogadenis who have gathered in a steadily growing refugee camp in this steamy port city 300 miles from the Ethiopian border.
“They strangled my wife with a rope,” said Ahmed Mohammed Abdi, 35, a farmer from Degehabur province.
He went home one day this month and saw his wife’s body lying by the door, his 1-month-old son still suckling at her breast. That night, he fled into the bush and began a seven-day trek to the relative safety of northern Somalia.
A top aide to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi rejected the allegations.
The government has barred reporters and international relief groups from most of the region, a vast desert that stretches from the central Ethiopian highlands to the border with Somalia.
In July, Ethiopia expelled the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross from the Ogaden, accusing its workers of aiding the rebels. Last week the aid agency Doctors Without Borders said it also had been denied access, and it warned of a major humanitarian crisis.
Some aid workers worry that the Ogaden could become a second Darfur, referring to the Sudanese government crackdown on insurgents in that country’s Darfur region, which the United States has labeled genocide. In this instance, the United States has come out in support of Ethiopia, one of its most important African allies in the war on terrorism.
The U.S. has helped train Ethiopia’s military — one of the largest and best equipped in Africa — and backed its recent invasion of Somalia to topple a fundamentalist Islamic regime there. Last week, after visiting one town in the Ogaden, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer condemned the rebels and said that reports of military atrocities were unsubstantiated.
The accounts given by dozens of refugees in Bossasso this week paint a grim picture: Ethiopian forces burning or blockading scores of towns and villages in a strategy seemingly aimed at starving the population, which widely supports the insurgency.
Since June, soldiers have confiscated food and medicine from shops, stolen camels and livestock, and blocked people from using water wells, refugees said. Few commercial trucks have been allowed in, and relief workers say that food and humanitarian aid also has been stopped for most of the summer.
The people, mainly ethnic Somali nomads and farmers, are surviving on the meat and milk of their remaining goats.
Jason McLure of McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this report. To reach Shashank Bengali, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: McClatchy Newspapers