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The Ogaden Crisis And Its Implications Within The Horn Of Africa Region
The situation in the Somali region of the Ethiopian State is morphing into an out and out humanitarian crisis due to the activity of rebels and the governing armed forces. The country's relations with the other states within the Horn of Africa are extremely precarious and the region's instability continues to grow.
By Elena Giannini
19 October 2007
The situation in Ogaden
The region of Ogaden, also known as the Somali Region of Ethiopia is positioned in the South-West of the country and borders with the Afar region and the Djibouti Republic in the north, the region of Oromia in the south-west and with Somalia to the east. The region sprawls for 250,000 square kilometres and is in the centre of the Horn of Africa. About four million Somali of Islamic faith live in this region and are among the poorest people in the country. According to reports by the United Nations' World Food Program, in order to avoid an out and out humanitarian crisis in the next three months help should be made available to enable at least 600,000 people to have access to alimentary products. Throughout the 90's, Ogaden's National Liberation Front (ONLF), a movement which battles for the human right of self-determination in this region of the country, will organize autonomous regional elections, while the government of Addis Ababa will act militarily not only against the rebels but against the region's entire population. The military pressure of the Ethiopian government within the region has increased in recent years, coinciding with the beginning of investigations into petroleum, conducted by companies, mainly Chinese. In June, the Ethiopian government launched a military counter-offensive with the objective of eliminating the ONLF. The Ethiopian government's intervention in the area led to the violent escalation of the ONLF's attacks within the region. In fact, in April the ONLF attacked a petroleum installation in Obole and 9 of the 74 victims were Chinese. In May, an attack on Dhagahbur and Jigjiga almost cost the life of Regional President, Abdillahi Hassan. The ONLF worsened the fight against the Islamic Courts (December 2006- January 2007) but even with frequent requests of the Ethiopian government that the ONLF be added to the list of terrorist organizations, at an international level this movement normally comes to be recognized only as a lay nationalist group. Prior to the Ethiopian government asking the United States Armed Forces to withdraw from the region, the American military collaborated with the ONLF in an effort to monitor terrorist activity in the region.
The Ethiopian national defense forces launched their own counter-offensive on the military operations but alternative action has also been undertaken within the region, for example the limitation on the possibility of access to humanitarian help, restrictions on commercial traffic and on freedom of movement in rural areas. The rebels have also placed landmines on the major roads, impeding humanitarian help and not least, the arrival of commercial products into the region. Three workers within the humanitarian sector died on June 29th, when their vehicle went over one of these explosives. The civil population not only suffers the consequences of the rebel insurrection but also those of the government counter-offensive.
The Human Rights Watch organization has heavily attacked the operation of the Ethiopian Armed Forces, revealing various human rights violations in the military activity carried out. The Organization’s investigators have brought to light hundreds of summary killings among the civil population, as well as sexual violence, arbitrary detentions, tortures, prevented access to wells for water supplies, burnt-down villages, confiscation of livestock and all of this at the hands of the Ethiopian military. According to Human Rights Watch, civilians are executed with the intention of inflicting a collective punishment on a population which is suspected of being sympathetic towards the rebels. The commercial blockade imposed by the country's government on the region has as a result, led to a full-blown lack of food products, forcing the population to abandon their houses. Almost all of the commercial traffic moving from Somaliland towards Ogaden and vice versa, has been prohibited. The Ethiopian government has also expelled the International committee, Red Cross from Ogaden, accusing it of favoring the ONLF. According to this report, the remaining independent humanitarian organizations are trying, with much difficulty to help civilians in desperate need of assistance to cope with the everyday obstructionism on the part of the governing forces.
The crisis and its implications for the Horn of Africa
The counter-offensive by the Ethiopian government in the country's Somali region is clearly linked to the military operations in central and southern Somalia. Ethiopia justified its intervention in Somalia on the side of the United States at the end of 2006 by expressing its desire to eliminate a terrorist threat and also by confirming that militant groups in Somalia used to have established links with the rebels of Ogaden, supplying their arms and logistic support. On October 2nd, when the Human Rights Watch intervened to present the situation to the United States' Congress, it was maintained that the crisis wasn't yet of great enough dimensions to be considered as another Darfur but that it had the potential to become one. The only difference between the two emergencies is that the perpetrator of these abuses is the United States' most important ally in the Horn of Africa. Given the fact that until now, the United States has supported the Ethiopian government fairly closely, public opinion is that the US is partly responsible for the way in which this campaign against the rebels of Ogaden has been carried out.
Added to this is the fact that the situation in Somalia is not improving. Following the throwing out of the Union of the Islamic Court, thanks to Ethiopian and United States' intervention, the disagreements have once again started to escalate to dizzying heights, since the Ethiopians support the settlement of Somalia's Federal Transition Government. The Al Shabaab militia daily launched new attacks against the Ethiopian military forces and against the Somali Transitional Government. In this case, the Human Rights Watch once again revealed that the conduct of the Ethiopian government doesn't respect humanitarian rights, making no effort to preserve the wellbeing of the civil population. For its own part, the Ethiopian government maintains that support for the rebels of Ogaden came not only from Somalia but also from Eritrea, further jeopardising and putting at risk relations between the two States. Eritrea, for its part, accuses Addis Abeba of unacceptable interferences in Somalia, of not respecting the decisions of the international commission as regards territories and of causing a serious humanitarian crisis in Ogaden.In recent weeks the General Secretary of United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, has advised the two nations to engage themselves in respecting the Agreements of Algeria, which leave in the past the war between the two States, in 2000.
The commercial restrictions, the bans imposed on humanitarian workers on access to the region, the abuses which the Ethiopian armed forces are accused of and the military activity of the rebels render the lives of the population extremely difficult, forced to abandon their own homes in search of food. The Ethiopian government sees as its first priority, the need to respond to the attacks of the Ogaden rebels, whose actions often involve violations of human rights and rights of war. Although worries over the eventual Eritrean support to the rebel activity of Ogaden could be considered legitimate, the rhetoric of war and terrorism is very often used in the region to camouflage the regional political and military agenda of the respective States.
The entire region of the Horn of Africa seems to be volatile and capable of explosion at any given moment. After the fall of the Islamic Courts, Somalia found itself once again in a situation of open conflict. The role played by Ethiopia in Somalia doesn't help relations with neighbouring Eritrea and neither do the invites by the Secretary of United Nations to respect the agreements made about the relations between the two States.The Ogaden crisis which is really at the centre of this triangle of nations could be the event which creates new controversy throughout the three States. The international community, in particular the USA currently finds itself in a situation which it should manage, however there exists no indication over when it will be resolved.
Translation by Megan Ball