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Rebel Group Urges UN to Probe Ethiopia's Ogaden Region


Ethiopia's Ogaden National Liberation Front rebels are urging the United Nations to launch a fact-finding mission in the Ogaden region to confirm mounting reports that the Ethiopian military is committing war crimes there. International humanitarian and human rights groups have already condemned the Ethiopian government for blocking food aid to large parts of the remote region and causing widespread hunger. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has more from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front appealed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to send a team of investigators to Ogaden in eastern Ethiopia, where the Ethiopian military is conducting a campaign to crush the rebel movement.

The ONLF rebels accuse the Ethiopian government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of using tactics reminiscent of Sudan's counterinsurgency campaign in western Darfur, including allegations that government troops are burning down villages, confiscating livestock and property, making arbitrary arrests, gang-raping women, and murdering innocent people.

Earlier this month, the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said it had credible reports that Ethiopian troops and its proxy militias are committing serious human rights abuses in the Ogaden, an oil rich-but poor, ethnically-Somali region that has long sought autonomy from Addis Ababa.

But the director of the organization's London office, Tom Porteous, tells VOA that it is still not clear whether the situation there is similar to Darfur because the Ogaden, a remote area around 200,000 square kilometers, has been inaccessible for months. In June, authorities in Addis Ababa briefly jailed several journalists working for the New York Times newspaper, after they visited the region without government permission.

"Certainly, there should be greater access because the reports that are coming out are serious enough that they do warrant careful monitoring," he said. "We do have quite credible reports that the blockade on the region is continuing. It is not total, but it is certainly having a serious effect on civilians."

Last month, the Ethiopian government banned aid convoys and cut off roads into large areas of the Ogaden as part of a three month-long crackdown on the ONLF.

The government denies all human rights abuse allegations and says the blockade is strictly strategic, aimed at preventing arms and supplies from reaching the ONLF, which has been labeled by the government as a terrorist group supported by Ethiopia's arch-rival, Eritrea.

In April, rebels killed 74 people, mostly Ethiopian guards and several Chinese workers, during a raid on a Chinese-run oil field in the Ogaden.

But humanitarian and human rights groups say the blockade has disrupted trade and put hundreds of thousands of people at risk of starvation.

Some have accused the Ethiopian government of diverting millions of dollars in international food aid and other humanitarian assistance to pay its soldiers and local militias recruited to fight the ONLF.

Ethiopia is a key U.S. partner in anti-terrorism efforts in the Horn of Africa - a region Islamic extremists have used as a haven and as a base of operations.

American officials in Addis Ababa say they are taking the reports of Ethiopian wrongdoing in the Ogaden seriously and are trying to investigate the situation.

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