Template:Infobox Military Conflict Template:Campaignbox Horn of Africa The 2007–2008 Ethiopian crackdown in Ogaden was a campaign involving the Ethiopian Army on the offensive against the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). The crackdown against the guerrillas began after they killed 74 people in an attack on a Chinese-run oil exploration field in April 2007.
The main military operations were centered around the towns of Degehabur, Kebri Dahar, Werder and Shilavo in Ogaden, which are in the Ethiopian Somali Region. The area is home to the Ogaden clan, seen as the bedrock of support to the ONLF.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), various human rights abuses were committed by the Ethiopian Military and ONLF rebels. Hundreds of civilians were killed and tens of thousands were displaced in 2007 alone, though exact figures are unknown because the area is remote and Ethiopian officials have restricted access for humanitarian groups and journalists.
- 1 Background
- 2 Timeline
- 3 Allegations of human rights abuses
- 4 Expulsions of humanitarian agencies
- 5 Controversy involving Qatar
- 6 The Eritrea and Somalia factors
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Ethiopia's eastern Somali Region, whose major part constitutes the Ogaden, is the site of a long-running, low-intensity armed conflict between the Ethiopian government and the ONLF. Formed in 1984, many of the ONLF's members had supported Somalia in a failed war with Ethiopia over the region in the 1970s. The group's aims have varied over time from independence to joining a "greater Somalia" or obtaining greater autonomy within Ethiopia.
The ONLF fought against the military dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam, but was not allied to the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the movement which overthrew the Derg and was led by current Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. In 1992, after the Ethiopian Civil War, the ONLF won control of the government of Ethiopia's newly formed Somali region. However, the ONLF's open advocacy of secession for the Somali region and its frosty relations with the ruling party led to its ouster from the government in 1994. The ONLF then reverted to waging armed attacks against the Ethiopian government, which has continued in the intervening years. For more than a decade, a heavy Ethiopian military presence in the region has been accompanied by widespread reports of human rights abuses committed by both sides. Those reports have generally been difficult to confirm because of the Ethiopian military's effective closure of the region to independent research and reporting.
April-May 2007 ONLF attacks
|List of abbreviations used in this article|
ONLF: Ogaden National Liberation Front
On April 24, 2007, members of the ONLF attacked a Chinese-run oil field in Abole, Somali Region, killing approximately 65 Ethiopians and 9 Chinese nationals. The ONLF claimed it had "completely destroyed" the oilfield. Most of the Ethiopians killed in the attack were daily laborers, guards and other support staff. Some members of the Ethiopian security officials were also killed during the surprise attack. It was the most deadly single attack by the ONLF. On April 27, an Ethiopian government spokesperson reported that ONLF rebels had detonated a "grenade," killing one person who was attending a funeral of a family member killed during the prior attack.
On May 28, ONLF fighters allegedly targeted two large gatherings in Jigjiga and Degahabur with hand grenades. The blasts, and the crowd stampedes that followed, killed 17 people and wounded dozens, including the regional president of Somali region. Most of those who died in these two simultaneous attacks were civilians, including a 17 year-old school boy and a number of women. The ONLF denied responsibility for the attacks, but Human Rights Watch says the organization has in the past targeted civilian officials and clan leaders who refuse to support the insurgency.
In June, the Ethiopian military massed troops in the Ogaden and vowed "to hunt down" the rebels. They began this effort by closing all roads into the region to commercial and humanitarian traffic. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced on June 9, 2007, that the Ethiopian government had commenced a large-scale offensive to suppress the ONLF rebellion, and brought large numbers of military reinforcements into the Somali region.
On June 18, in Labiga village, south of the town of Degehabur, Ethiopian forces allegedly killed 21 villagers who resisted when Ethiopian forces tried to take their livestock. From June to September 2007, the counterinsurgency campaign was at its peak. This period was characterized by systematic using of various abusive strategies by the military.
The ONLF announced a ceasefire on September 2 while a U.N. mission was due to assess their claims of human rights abuses. "Effective immediately, armed forces of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) will cease all offensive military operations against regime troops and sponsored militias for the duration of the U.N. fact finding mission," the ONLF said. From September 2007 the Ethiopian government’s strategy shifted from the direct use of military forces to increased forced recruitment and deployment of local militia forces.
On October 21, 2007, an ONLF statement said its forces had killed 250 soldiers during the battle near the town of Werder. There was no confirmation of the attack either from the Ethiopian government or from independent sources. On November 4, the ONLF claimed that up to 270 Ethiopian soldiers had been killed in clashes between October 26 and November 1. Once again, the claim could not be independently verified.
On November 16, 2007, the Ethiopian army claimed to have killed 100 ONLF fighters during the past month, and to have captured hundreds more. On November 18, 2007, the ONLF reported that the Ethiopian air force had carpet bombed villages and nomadic settlements the Ogaden region, killing up to a dozen civilians. An ONLF spokesman also said that some ONLF fighters were hurt in the air bombardments, but the air force targeted civilian settlements and livestock. The Ethiopian government denied these reports on November 20. On November 28, 2007, Ogaden residents described continued abuses on the part of the military, but also said that aid delivery had improved. UN humanitarian chief John Holmes said the humanitarian situation in Ogaden as "potentially serious" but not yet catastrophic. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that human rights abuses and a humanitarian crisis "didn't exist. Doesn't exist. Will not exist."
On February 26, 2008, rebels said they killed 43 soldiers during two weeks of battles in the northern 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 ONLF said in a statement.
The Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on May 21, 2008, that the ONLF had been largely "neutralised" by the military offensive going on for a year. "There is no organised ONLF operation in the Somali region. It has been neutralised," he said. "There may be a few individuals and we are picking them one-by-one." The ONLF denies that, saying despite a campaign of terror in the region, the army has not defeated it. According to a Human Rights Watch report, reports of village burnings and relocations have diminished in 2008.
In January 2009, the foreign relations chief Mohammed Sirad was killed by Ethiopian security forces at the town of Danan as he met with other ONLF members. Reportedly this has led to the ONLF splitting into two factions, with one group allied to current ONLF chairman Mohammed Omar Osman, and the other led by senior leader Abdiwali Hussein Gas, who appointed Salahudin Ma'ow as the new ONLF chairman and declared that he will "bring Mohammed Omar Osman to court".
Allegations of human rights abuses
Abuses perpetrated by the Ethiopian military
Ethiopia's military campaign has triggered a serious humanitarian crisis, according to several humanitarian organisations. The Ogaden National Liberation Movement accused the government of blockading the region deliberately in order to produce a "man-made famine".
According to Human Rights Watch, civilians in the Somali region were trapped between the warring parties. HRW learned that dozens of civilians have been killed in what appears to be a deliberate effort to mete out collective punishment against a civilian population suspected of sympathizing with the rebels. The Ethiopian military attacks on villages have displaced civilians in the Werder, Korahe and Degehabur Zones, even in areas where there is no known ONLF presence. Ethiopian troops were destroying villages and property, confiscating livestock and forcing civilians to relocate. Whatever the military strategy behind them, according to the HRW these abuses violate the laws of war.
Refugees fleeing the crackdown told stories of widespread violence, with entire villages being destroyed along with arbitrary theft, rape and murder by Ethiopian soldiers. In October 2007, The Independent reported that the situation in Ogaden had begun to mirror the Darfur conflict, with refugees stating that government troops had burned villages and raped and killed civilians. Earlier in the month, Human Rights Watch had told the United States House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health that "the Ogaden is not Darfur. But the situation in Ogaden follows a frighteningly familiar pattern", while recognizing that "Ethiopia has legitimate and serious domestic and regional security concerns". Also, the United Nations advocacy director for Human Rights Watch has called Ogaden a "mini-Darfur". Human Rights Watch says it has documented dozens of cases of severe abuse by Ethiopian troops in the Ogaden, including gang rapes, burned villages and what it calls "demonstration killings," like hanging and beheading of populace, meant to terrorize the population.
Abuses perpetrated by the ONLF
The HRW accused the ONLF too of being responsible for serious abuses, including abductions, beatings, and summary executions of civilians in their custody, including government officials and individuals suspected of supporting the government. While its attacks are largely directed at the Ethiopian armed forces, it has at times conducted attacks against civilian areas and used land mines in a manner that indiscriminately harmed civilians. The ONLF also threatened attacks on civilian commercial enterprises and imposed “taxes” on commercial trucks and convoys moving through rural areas under their control.
Forceful draft of civilians
Several Ethiopian refugees and international organizations reported in December 2007 that the Ethiopian military, strained by its deployment in Somalia, was forcing local civilians (including government employees and health workers) to fight alongside troops against the ONLF rebels. According to the same reports, these under-equipped and poorly trained militias suffered heavy casualties in several battles. One Western aid official said soldiers barged into hospitals to draft recruits and threatened to jail health workers if they did not comply. In other cases, lists of names were posted on public bulletin boards, ordering government employees to report for duty, according to a current member of the regional parliament and two Ethiopian administrators who have fled the country. Many of those who refused were fired, jailed and in some cases tortured, the administrators and parliament member said.
Ethiopian officials denied the charges, claiming that local tribes were willingly forming defense groups against the ONLF. Several United Nations officials and Western diplomats said they were discussing the militia program in private meetings, but contended they could not comment publicly for fear of provoking the ire of the Ethiopian government, resulting in a possible suspension of humanitarian efforts in the region.
Expulsions of humanitarian agencies
Large segments of the region were inaccessible to outside agencies as Ethiopian troops attempted to suppress the rebel insurgency. In July 2007, the Red Cross was given a seven day limit to leave the Ogaden region by the Ethiopian government. The ICRC was carrying out water and sanitation projects there. International aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières accused Ethiopia of denying it access to the Ogaden region on September 1, 2007.
On November 6, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced opening an aid facility in the Ogaden region. The U.N. has also called for an independent investigation into allegations of human rights abuses by Ethiopian forces in the region. Government troops are fighting ONLF rebels who want more autonomy for their region. Médecins Sans Frontières is among the 12 organizations that have received permission to work in Ogaden, while the ICRC is still barred from working in the region.
Controversy involving Qatar
In the beginning of April 2008, the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news network aired a series of reports on the Ogaden region. Ethiopia severed diplomatic relations with the Gulf state on April 21, 2008.
In its statement, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry said it was because of "Qatar's attempts to destabilise the sub-region and its hostility towards Ethiopia itself". It accused Qatar of being blinded by arrogance and remaining deaf to all Ethiopia's attempts to persuade it to change its ways. Foreign Ministry sources reported that the Ethiopian government believes Qatar was giving substantial sums of money—amounting to circa $150,000 a month—to Eritrea, which are then given to the ONLF.
In response, the official Qatari QNA news agency cited a foreign ministry spokesman as saying Doha was "surprised" by Addis Ababa’s "unfounded and untruthful allegations," and saw them as "a deliberate attempt to justify its own erroneous policies." The ONLF also criticized the Ethiopian move. "If there has been a destabilising factor in the Horn of Africa," the ONLF stated, "it has been the regime currently in power in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian regime's severing of diplomatic relations with Qatar is based on accusations which are far from reality and designed to divert attention from yet another unfolding African genocide in Ogaden."
The Eritrea and Somalia factors
Ethiopia accuses neighboring Eritrea of using the ONLF to start a proxy war to destroy the economy of Ethiopia. The two nations have been enemies since they fought an unresolved border war in 1998-2000. Officials in Asmara deny that Eritrea is aiding the ONLF. They accuse Ethiopia of using Eritrea as a scapegoat for its inability to settle disputes with Ethiopia's numerous ethnic groups.
The current campaign in the Somali region is also connected to Ethiopian military operations in Somalia. One motive for Ethiopia's ouster of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) in December 2006 may have been to cut the links between the ONLF, the ruling Islamic Courts and Eritrea, including arms and logistical supply lines from Eritrea and Somalia to the ONLF in Ethiopia's eastern region. Experts say the ONLF was active in the Somali capital Mogadishu during 2006 when it was controlled by Islamic Courts Union, and that some Islamist fighters may have fled to Ogaden after they were ousted from Mogadishu.
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- ONLF massacre detailed
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- Crisis briefing on the violence in the Ogaden region from Reuters AlertNet