Ethiopia’s ‘own Darfur’ as villagers flee government-backed violence – By Steve Bloomfield in Bosasso

October 17th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

Early one June morning, in Kamuda, a village of 200 families in the remote Ogaden region in eastern Ethiopia, 180 soldiers announced their arrival by firing guns in the air. (more…)

Early one June morning, in Kamuda, a village of 200 families in the remote Ogaden region in eastern Ethiopia, 180 soldiers announced their arrival by firing guns in the air.

The village, they said, had been providing food and shelter for the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a separatist rebel group . As the villagers froze in horror, the soldiers plucked out seven young women, all aged between 15 and 18, and left.

The following morning the youngest girl was found. Her body, bloodied and beaten, was hanging from a tree. The next day a second girl was found hanging from the same tree. A third suffered the same fate. The others were never seen again.

Shukri Abdullahi Mohammed, 48, a mother of seven children, lived in Kamuda. As she describes the fate of the seven girls – “the most beautiful girls in the village” – she tightens her headscarf around her neck to indicate the way they were killed. “I will not forget it,” she says.

Days later, a 12-year-old boy from the same village was kidnapped by soldiers and gang-raped. Every night, soldiers would knock on doors looking for women to rape. “I did not want to wait until it happened to my family,” said Mrs Mohammed. They left Kamuda and made their way across the porous border with Somalia, before travelling a further 300 miles by foot to the hot and humid port town of Bosasso.

About 100 Ethiopians are now arriving here every day. Their stories reveal the brutality of Ethiopia’s hidden war, a brutal counter-insurgency that some aid officials believe has parallels with Darfur. Some estimates put the number of people displaced by the violence at 200,000 already.

According to accounts from refugees, Ethiopian troops are burning villages, raping women and killing civilians as part of a systematic campaign to drive them from their homes. They reported dozens of villages destroyed and accused the Ethiopian government of forcibly starving its own people by preventing food convoys reaching villages and destroying crops and livestock.

A former Ethiopian soldier who defected from the army said how he had been ordered to burn villages and kill all their inhabitants. He said the Ethiopian air force would bomb a village before a unit of ground troops followed, firing indiscriminately at civilians. “Men, women, children – we killed them all,” he said.

“We were told we were fighting guerrillas – the ONLF,” he said. “But we were killing farmers – they were not ONLF.”

Those who managed to escape are living in a series of ramshackle refugee camps on the edge of Bosasso. Their shelters are made from pieces of cardboard and old rags, scraps of plastic sheeting and rusting corrugated iron.

Sat outside the shelters, on the grey expanse of dust and stone, voices overlap as refugees list the villages that have been destroyed. Kor u Celista, Gallaalshe, Fooldeex, Yoocaalle – places that were all once home to hundreds of families, now abandoned and empty, the huts burnt to the ground.

Abudllahi Shukri Mohammed, 30, a cattle herder from Dega Bur province tells how he was forced at gunpoint to work as a porter for a group of 300 soldiers. They took his 18 cows and made him and five other nomads carry heavy loads. After three long days marching through the Ogaden, Mr Mohammed tried to escape.

“They caught me and started beating me. They kicked me in the head and hit me with the back of their guns.” With his right arm he motions the steady, repetitive smack of the guns against his body. His left arm lies limp on his lap. He has been unable to move it since the attack, his fingers fixed in an ugly formation.

“They beat me for two hours,” he says, “then I fell unconscious. They thought I was dead so they left me.”

Ethiopia claims it is defending itself against an insurgency launched by the ONLF in a region that has long been marginalised.

It claims villagers have been giving the fighters shelter and food. Analysts say Ethiopia has been attempting to reduce that support by emptying the countryside. Thousands have been moved to towns heavily controlled by the military. Anyone left in the villages is considered a possible ONLF supporter.

The Ethiopian military is not the only destructive force in the region. The ONLF launched its most daring assault in April. The group attacked a Chinese oil installation in Abole, killing nine Chinese and 65 Ethiopians.

It was that attack which sparked the fresh counter-insurgency – a fierce scorched-earth policy. In the Ogaden’s main towns, Jijiga and Gode, the prisons are overflowing. “They are arresting anyone who they think might have a connection with the ONLF,” says one human rights worker in Bosasso. “Some are being killed if the security forces don’t believe they are telling the truth.”

Human rights investigators are gathering evidence of widespread use of rape, with women reporting gang-rapes by up to a dozen soldiers. In some villages, men have been abducted at night, their bodies dumped in the village the next morning.

While in Darfur, aid agencies have been able to establish camps and provide humanitarian support, they have been blocked from setting up operations in the Ogaden. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been thrown out and Medicins Sans Frontieres has also been prevented from working. Journalists trying to enter have also been banned – those that have tried have been promptly arrested.

A UN team was allowed into the Ogaden last month to investigate allegations of abuse by Ethiopian troops. Its report was not made public but the team called for an independent inquiry.

But while Khartoum’s counter-insurgency in Darfur has been described by the US as “genocide” and by the UN as “crimes against humanity”, international condemnation of Ethiopia has, so far, been limited. Indeed, the US has given its backing to Ethiopia. America’s top official on African affairs, assistant secretary of state, Jendayi Frazer, visited one town in the Ogaden last month.

On her return to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, she criticised the rebels and said the reports of military abuses were merely allegations. “We urge any and every government to respect human rights and to try to avoid civilian casualties but that’s difficult in dealing with an insurgency,” she said.

America sees Ethiopia as its principal Horn of Africa ally in the “war on terror”. The US gave tacit approval for Ethiopia’s Christmas invasion of Somalia which ousted the Union of Islamic Courts.

It also provided logistical and technical support for the operation and continues to help co-ordinate a response to the insurgency in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, which seeks to destabilise the transitional government, propped up by Ethiopia.

The US provides some $283m (£140m) in military and humanitarian aid to Ethiopia and has trained its military – one of the largest and strongest in Africa.

The Ogaden has become the latest flashpoint in a broader conflict in the Horn of Africa. On one side is Ethiopia and the weak transitional government of Somalia, on the other is Eritrea and two insurgent groups, the ONLF and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS).

From West’s favourite leader to grave-digger of democracy

Sat between a beaming Tony Blair and Sir Bob Geldof, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, could hardly have wished for a stronger endorsement. The launch of Mr Blair’s Commission for Africa report in March 2005 in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, enhanced Mr Meles’s position as the British Government’s – and the West’s – favourite African leader.

Handpicked by Mr Blair to sit on the commission, Mr Meles was viewed as the man to lead the “African renaissance”. He was seen as a leader committed to development and democracy.

But within two months of the commission’s report being published, Mr Meles’s star began to fade. Huge street protests erupted in Addis Ababa in May 2005 following a general election which both the government and opposition claimed they had won. Security forces opened fire on protesters, killing 193 people, and thousands of opposition supporters and leaders were arrested.

More than 100 opposition leaders were put on trial for treason while the police crackdown intensified. Text messages, which had been used to organise the demonstrations in 2005, were banned. The next time Mr Meles and Mr Blair found themselves sat next to each other, at a summit in South Africa, the stiff body language and the lack of eye contact between the pair underlined the deterioration in the relationship.

Britain still gives Ethiopia £130m in humanitarian aid each year – more than any other African country. Like the US, Britain has tried to retain a relatively close relationship with Ethiopia – one of its few allies in a volatile Horn of Africa.

  1. Ere Amsale
    | #1

    To any one who thinks his/her being is for the sake of the mistakes.


    From which impoverished town or so called citie have you been born and badly grown up, as a spoiled child knows nothing about Ethiopia?
    You call me stupid? Yes, these days we are witnessing so many crazy and valueless individuals like you. Let me tell you a bit about my self. I know 100% the rural and 100% the urban Ethiopia. I’m a complete Ethiopian. Not a fraction one like you who sounds his being born is to be a troublemaker and less than human.

    You are fool. You don’t get it. Kinijit with ABBB is gone. They divided saying “Kinijit members out of prison and those haven’t been in prison.” Yet they also alienated themselves from those out of prisons, too. They committed a failed coup. Ethiopia is not the playground to babies like anymore. Ethiopia has many matured and committed children that you don’t belong to that category.

    Can you and your stupid similarities, the failed and worthless Diasporas, behave at least as little human do. You are too slow and too dump. Keep your crying loudly saying ABBB. The rest of the Kinijit will move on.

    Let me tell you some facts about.

    Kinijit has 60 lilay members. 56 members are active members and 4 are absent because of some reasons. What you stupid Diaspora call them “heroes” are with 5 members.

    By the way if they are heroes, what about the 193 innocent civilians massacred in daylight? What about almost 800 innocent civilians most of them are severely handicap 100% relaying on their family members and became beggars? What kind reward are you giving them? You mean we have to forget them? Because your ABBB group refused to take time first to visit those who lost family members and those wounded to give them at least a moral support? Instead they run to foreign country to be treated as heroes. Shame and funny.

    When the respected haliue shawel go back to Ethiopia, everything will be settled. The ABBB group can go to Eritrea. They also can relay on OLF and ONLF. There is a room to B. Mekdesa if she realises how they are using her for power destroying her credibility and trust from the Ethiopian people. But, But, B. Nega will never be part of Kinijit. We already know his darkest side. He had a power struggle with Lidetu. Lidetu is gone. Now he has a power struggle with hailue shawel whom has 1.35 million party members while b nega. has no single office in any rural Ethiopia where 85% the population live.

    Remember, B. Nega came back to Ethiopia to Implement the Woyane Ethnic policy education system and kilil.
    B. Mewa is the most wanted man by the govt because of millions of dollar he looted from the country. Instead of putting him to prison they did let him go. Bbecause they were afraid he would bring their crimes in public too as some members from the govt were his ally to loot the nation. He was in Dire Dawa responsible to the coffee, chat, animals, flower and other trade issues. At that time he looted the nation. It is known and documented.
    Andargachew? He is the worst Enemy Ethiopia ever has. I can’t believe a country like ours which is the mother to Heroes like Belay Zeleke can be the mother of this evil creature, too.

    You, crazy and too slow, go to hell rather than thinking an animal, saying with silly voice “Kinijit will not divided.” I tell you with hard voice to discipline you like a baby that kinijit will continue without especially B. Nega, period. If you don’t get it, be one of the sheep from the field.

    Rather than your stupid thinking, why don’t you give some reason why he used the enemy created Ethiopian map on his book? What is the reason the map had to be there the first place? Give some answer about. Stop being acting as a valueless child. Don’t lose yourself by advocating others mistake for their sake. Be for your sake. Your sake at this point is the truth about your country.

  2. are u crazy
    | #2

    Crazy Ere Amsale,

    I am so sorry, you already lost your mind. It is really heart breaking that you weyane gangs gone mad like this. The article is about the inhuman acts of TPLF. Try to forward your blinded support for the killings, rapes, burning of huts, displacement and other inhuman acts being made on the poor ogaden poeple. Bravo support all these inhuman practices of TPLF, that is what a devil knows.

  3. are u crazy
    | #3

    Thanks to concerned individuals and groups around the glob who are trying to dipict the REAL picture of the inhuman, dirty,rotten, stupid MELES

    | #4

    Ladies and Gentlmen,

    Let`s go and solve your internal crises first rather than posting trash articles.Really,we at EPDRF Camp currently loughing at you.When it becomes a matter of siltan you are fighting eachother…amazing

    Woyane from 4kilo

  5. | #5

    When I read every article,in most cases I do not see or read about China’s acitivity in Ethiopia.However,if anyone notice news all over the World,you will notice China’s inflaunce behind many country’s dictators.Let’s take Burma’s viollence against innocent people by their own to be leaders,and our neighnbor Sudan regime’s viollence against their owen Darfur people,to mention.I see the same Chinese influance in Ogaden,Ethiopia,and it needs attention or analysis from any expert to bring the awerness to the spot.Thank You!

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