U.N. Details Privation in Area of Ethiopia Torn by Civil War – By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
The United Nations painted a bleak picture of Ethiopia’s war-torn Ogaden region in a report released Wednesday, detailing an acute medicine shortage, depleted food stocks, rising prices and an increased number of beatings and shootings.
After a weeklong fact-finding mission to the area, United Nations officials said there was not yet a full-blown crisis, but there could be soon.
“Humanitarian conditions within the conflict areas have deteriorated substantially over the past several months,” said a statement from the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “The nutritional status of the population will rapidly worsen within two or three months if only limited quantities of commercial food continue to be available.”
The report confirms what aid workers and Ogaden residents have been saying for months: that the Ethiopian military has largely sealed off parts of the area in an effort to stamp out a rebel movement and that civilians were suffering. An Ethiopian government spokesman, Zemedkun Tekle, played down the findings on Wednesday and said, “Nobody is starving there.” The government also issued a statement saying, “Prompt action will be taken to ensure adequate food supply and health services reach all those in need.”
The Ogaden is a desolate corner of eastern Ethiopia where nomads are waging a separatist war against the Ethiopian military. After the rebels killed more than 60 Ethiopian guards and Chinese workers in April, government troops blockaded much of the area, according to Western diplomats and aid workers. Many Ogaden residents have described longstanding abuses, with Ethiopian soldiers gang-raping women, burning huts and killing civilians, accusations the Ethiopian government denies.
A team of United Nations officials set off in late August on the fact-finding mission. Several aid organizations said the mission was flawed because the United Nations team had been escorted by the Ethiopian military, which may have intimidated residents from speaking freely.
One United Nations official in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, agreed that the team had not wanted to travel with Ethiopian troops. “But it was either that or scrap the mission,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he said he feared reprisals from the Ethiopian government.
Abdirahman Mahdi, a spokesman for the Ogaden National Liberation Front, the main rebel group, called the report “a good beginning.”
“It’s diplomatic,” he said. “But we need more than diplomacy. The government is committing war crimes out there.”