Ethiopian UN Security Official On Trial for Terrorism

An Ethiopian national working for the United Nations in the restive Ogaden region is being tried on terrorism charges for allegedly having links with an outlawed rebel group. The defendant was arrested last year after helping to negotiate the release of two kidnapped U.N. aid workers.

U.N. security officer Abdirahman Sheikh Hassan appeared briefly in an Addis Ababa courtroom Monday. His case was continued until May 15.

Hassan was arrested last July under Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law. A charge sheet seen by VOA accuses him of intent to forcefully overthrow Ethiopia's government as a leader of the banned Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

Weeks before his arrest, Hassan had been involved in negotiations to free two employees of the U.N. World Food Program. The pair had been kidnapped and held for more than six weeks by unknown gunmen after their vehicles were ambushed during a mission to monitor food aid distribution in Ethiopia's drought-stricken Ogaden region.

One of their WFP colleagues was killed in the ambush and another was badly wounded.

The government accused the ONLF of carrying out that attack. But the ONLF strongly condemned the incident, calling it “cowardly and cold-blooded.” A statement emailed to journalists alleged that government forces had attacked the WFP vehicles after the humanitarian workers stumbled upon evidence of mass murders by government troops.

A government spokesman called the allegations “preposterous.” The competing claims could not be verified because Ethiopia sharply limits access to the Ogaden region, where a counterinsurgency operation is under way.

Sources close to the case say that as a senior U.N. security officer in the region, and a Somali speaker, Hassan played a crucial role in communicating with whoever kidnapped the WFP workers. But the government has presented as evidence transcripts of telephone conversations suggesting he had been taking orders from an exiled senior ONLF official.

In a telephone interview, the U.N. country representative for Ethiopia, Eugene Owusu, cautioned not to make too strong a connection between the case of the abducted workers and Hassan's arrest.

"The premise of your point is that any difficulties he has have to do with his role in the incident that took place," said Owusu. "I think that is not quite correct. The issue is, one has to be careful and not misinterpret this to mean that it is totally and directly linked to that incident."

Owusu said U.N. agencies have been in close touch with the Ethiopian government to ensure Hassan's rights are protected.

"This is something we've been working with the government intensively to ensure that the proper privileges and immunities are respected, and there is open sharing of information between the government and ourselves on this issue," he said.

The anti-terrorism law under which Hassan is charged has been sharply criticized by human rights and media freedom groups, who say it can be used to suppress political dissent. Government spokesmen reject that charge, arguing that the law is based on similar statutes in other countries.

The ONLF has been fighting since 1984 for autonomy of the Ogaden region, which borders Somalia. The rebel group was among five organizations outlawed as terrorists last year, shortly before Hassan's arrest.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle reports from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs