04 May, 2008

Ogaden

While the west agonises over Darfur, another humanitarian and human rights disaster is brewing in the Horn of Africa. June, the Ethiopian government launched a major military campaign in the Ogaden, a sparsely populated and remote region on Ethiopia's border with Somalia. The counter insurgency operation was aimed at eliminating the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a rebel group which has been fighting for years for self-determination for the Ogaden's predominantly Somali population.

In less than two months, Ethiopia's military campaign has triggered a serious humanitarian crisis. Human Rights Watch has learned that dozens of civilians have been killed in what appears to be a deliberate effort to mete out collective punishment against a civilian population suspected of sympathising with the rebels.

Villages have been attacked, sacked and burnt. Livestock - the lynchpin of the region's pastoralist economy - have been confiscated or destroyed. A partial trade blockade has been imposed on the region leading to serious food shortages. Relatives of suspected rebels have been taken hostage. Thousands of civilians have been displaced, fleeing across the borders of Ethiopia into northern Kenya and Somaliland.

Last week, with little objection from the international community, the Ethiopian government expelled from the Ogaden the International Committee of the Red Cross, one of the few neutral observers of the crisis left in the region.

This is not Darfur. But the situation in Ogaden follows a familiar pattern of a counter insurgency operation in which government forces show little regard for the safety of the civilian population and commit serious abuses, including deliberate attacks on civilians, mass displacement of populations and interference with humanitarian assistance.

Unlike in Darfur, however, the state that is perpetrating abuses against its people in Ogaden is a key western ally and recipient of large amounts of western aid. Furthermore the crisis in Ogaden is linked to a military intervention by Ethiopia in Somalia that has been justified in terms of counter terrorism and is firmly supported by the United States and other western donors. Read more from: Human Rights Watch

More on the Ogaden: Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, Slate, The Guardian, The Independent, HRW, Ogaden Online, Relief Web, Ogaden War, Wikipedia, Allafrica, Aljazeera, Google News, Americanchronicle, Arab News, BBC, foreignaffairs.house.gov

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