NAIROBI (Reuters) - Rebels from Ethiopia’s troubled Ogaden region said on Thursday an “African genocide” was unfolding there while a U.N. fact-finding mission had only visited areas sanctioned by the government.
The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) called on the United Nations to investigate what it said were “war crimes” by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s troops in the remote and arid region neighboring Somalia.
Meles’ government has been waging an unprecedented military crackdown on the rebels after they killed 74 people during a raid on a Chinese-run oil exploration field earlier this year.
“The United Nations in particular bears a responsibility to thoroughly investigate war crimes in Ogaden and halt the unfolding of yet another preventable African genocide,” the front said.
Both sides have reported hundreds of deaths, and accused the other of terrorizing the population. But there has been no independent verification of the claims and counter-claims in an area effectively off-limits to journalists and aid groups.
The rebels said a U.N. mission this month, intended to assess claims of rights abuses as well as humanitarian needs in the Ogaden, did not have access to the entire region.
“To do this, the United Nations must have access to all parts of Ogaden and not be limited to routes approved by the regime as was the case with the recent U.N. fact-finding mission,” the ONLF statement added.
Ethiopian officials deny they manipulated the trip. And U.N. officials are yet to go public on their findings.
The ONLF said thousands of civilians had fled to neighboring Somalia with limited food, medical aid and financial resources during the past four months. “These victims of the regime’s war crimes include victims of rape, torture, gunshot wounds and those fleeing burnt villages,” it said.
The ONLF wants greater autonomy for the ethnically Somali region, but Ethiopia accuses them of being terrorists supported by arch-foe and neighbor Eritrea.