Rebels fighting for independence in Ethiopia's Ogaden region say they
are stronger than ever, a day after the government said the insurgency
is in tatters.
A statement e-mailed to news organizations
Wednesday says the operational capacity of the rebel Ogaden National
Liberation Front is higher than at any point since its anti-Ethiopia
The e-mail, apparently sent from ONLF offices
in Europe, says rebels in the arid stretch of eastern Ethiopia along
the Somalia border have defeated every major Ethiopian military
campaign in the past two years.
The statement was in response to
comments from Ethiopia's Communications Minister Bereket Simon, who
told reporters that government troops are on the verge of crushing the
"The situation in Ogaden has developed in such a way
that when the ONLF has lost too much ground. And at this point we can
say the ONLF is very weakened and in a state of crisis," he said.
Bereket said government political and counterinsurgency operations have undermined the ONLF's popular support.
situation in Ogaden is improving by the day," he said. "People are interested in
developmental activities and taking matters into their own hands. The
government assessment is that the ONLF will find itself in a very
The ONLF statement described
Bereket's comments as "wishful thinking," aimed at instilling a false
sense of confidence in oil exploration companies the government is
trying to lure back to the Ogaden region.
Ethiopia stepped up
counterinsurgency operations in the Ogaden nearly two years ago, after
the rebels attacked a Chinese-run oil exploration facility, killing 65
Ethiopians and several Chinese nationals.
Industry analysts say no oil has been discovered in the Ogaden.
government restricts journalists access to the region, and there is
little verifiable information about the strength of the rebels or the
level of fighting.
The U.S. group Human Rights Watch last year
issued a report accusing government troops of staging public executions
and burning villages in their counterinsurgency campaign. The report
was based on eyewitness accounts.
Ethiopia responded with its
own report charging the Human Rights group with using flawed methods
that resulted in unsubstantiated and inflammatory allegations. The
government rebuttal noted that Human Rights Watch investigators had not
visited the Ogaden, and that some of the people listed as dead in the
report had later been found alive.
Independent verification of
the ONLF's strength on the ground is impossible, but the group is known
to have strong backing among Ogadenis living overseas, many of whom are
refugees. Hundreds of sign-carrying ONLF supporters staged noisy
demonstrations outside the G20 summit site in London last week to
protest the presence of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.