[dehai-news] (Boston University) Insurgency in Ogaden

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From: Biniam Haile \(SWE\) (eritrea.lave@comhem.se)
Date: Sun Feb 15 2009 - 17:42:43 EST

Sunday, February 15, 2009
Boston University School of Theology Archives.
Insurgency in Ogaden
The insurgency in Ogaden, waged by the separatist Ogaden National
Liberation Front rebel group in Ethiopia's Somali region, began in 1995
and is ongoing. The group's aims have varied over time from increased
autonomy in Ethiopia to outright independence to joining a "Greater
Somalia". The long-running conflict has been largely invisible as Addis
Ababa has restricted access to the region.[1]
The low-level guerrilla campaign was continuing, generally neglected by
foreign media, until several high-profile ONLF attacks in the region in
2007, including the attack on the Chinese oil site at Abole and the
attacks on Jigjiga and Dhagahbur. In response, Ethiopia launched a
military crackdown in June 2007 in order to root out the rebels. The
offensive was accompanied by high criticism and allegations of serious
human rights abuses.[2] The offensive was also allegedly linked to
Ethiopia's involvement in Somalia. One motive for Ethiopia's ouster of
the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) in December 2006 may have been to cut
the links between the ONLF, the ruling Islamic Courts and Eritrea,
including arms and logistical supply lines from Eritrea and Somalia to
the ONLF in Ethiopia's eastern region.[2]

The Ogaden, which is dominated by the Somali Ogaden subclan and came
under Ethiopian rule only in the mid-19th century, has been the scene of
a near-constant tension between Somalia and Ethiopia since Somalia
became independent in 1960. The conflict emerged into open warfare in
the late 1970s when then-President Siad Barre tried unsuccessfully to
realise a "Greater Somalia" by invading the region in the 1977-1978
Ogaden War.
The ONLF was formed in 1984. It systematically recruited Western Somali
Liberation Front(WSLF) members and replaced the WSLF in the Ogaden as
the WSLF support from Somalia dwindled and finally dried up in the late
The ONLF was a participant in the Ethiopian Civil War, when it fought
against the Derg, the military dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam,
but was not allied to the Tigrean People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the
guerrilla movement led by Ethiopia's current prime minister, Meles
Zenawi. After the Mengistu regime fell, in 1992, the ONLF won control of
the government of Ethiopia's newly formed Somali region, becoming the
only party not allied to the TPLF to score such a success. However, the
ONLF's open advocacy of secession for Somali region and its frosty
relations with the ruling party led to its ouster from government in

The insurgency
1995-2007: a quiet conflict
The ONLF reverted in 1995 to waging armed attacks against the TPLF-led
Ethiopian government, which continued in the intervening years. For more
than a decade, a heavy Ethiopian military presence in the region has
been accompanied by widespread reports of human rights abuses committed
by both sides. Those reports have generally been difficult to confirm
because of the Ethiopian military's effective closure of the region to
independent research and reporting.[2
The Ethiopian intervention in Somalia of December 2006 coincided with a
serious escalation of the insurgency in Ogaden. Beginning in early 2007,
the ONLF increased its targeting of representatives of the regional and
local administrations in the Somali Region, as well as military convoys.
In January 2007 ONLF rebels attacked Garbo wereda in Fiiq zone, killing
five local officials who refused to hand over heavy weapons to the
rebels. A week later, the ONLF attacked Gunagada police station in
Dhagahbur zone. Twenty-five people were killed in the attack, including
the local head of security. The ONLF also abducted a number of
officials, including the police commissioner, who according to released
detainees was later executed.[4]

April 2007: the Abole oil field raid

On April 24, 2007, members of the ONLF attacked a Chinese-run oil field
in Abole, Somali Region, killing approximately 65 Ethiopians and 9
Chinese nationals.[5] The ONLF claimed it had "completely destroyed" the
oilfield. Most of the Ethiopians killed in the attack were daily
laborers, guards and other support staff. Some members of the Ethiopian
security officials were also killed during the surprise attack. It was
the most deadly single attack by the ONLF.[6] The seven Chinese oil
workers kidnapped by the ONLF were released on April 29 and handed to
the Red Cross, Red Cross officials and the rebels said. One Somali and
an Ethiopian oil worker were also released, an Ogaden National
Liberation Front spokesman said, adding all were in good health.[7]

May 2008: Jijiga-Degehabur attacks
On May 28, ONLF fighters allegedly targeted two large gatherings in
Jijiga and Degehabur with hand grenades. The blasts, and the crowd
stampedes that followed, killed 17 people and wounded dozens, including
the regional president of Somali Region. Most of those who died in these
two simultaneous attacks were civilians, including a 17 year-old school
boy and a number of women. The ONLF denied responsibility for the

2007-2008 Ethiopian crackdown

Main article: 2007-2008 Ethiopian crackdown in Ogaden
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced on June 9, 2007, that the
Ethiopian government had commenced a large-scale offensive to suppress
the ONLF rebellion, and brought large numbers of military reinforcements
into the Somali Region.[4] From June to September 2007, the
counterinsurgency campaign was at its peak. This period was
characterized by systematic using of various abusive strategies by the
military. From September 2007 the Ethiopian government's strategy
shifted from the direct use of military forces to increased forced
recruitment and deployment of local militia forces.[8]
The main military operations were centered around the towns of
Degehabur, Kebri Dahar, Werder and Shilavo in Ogaden, which are in the
Ethiopian Somali Region. The area is home to the Ogaden clan, seen as
the bedrock of support to the ONLF.[9]
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), various human rights abuses were
perpetrated, mostly by the Ethiopian military. Hundreds of civilians
were killed and tens of thousands were displaced in 2007 alone, though
exact figures are unknown because the area is remote and Ethiopian
officials restrict access for humanitarian groups and journalists.[10]
Reports of village burnings and relocations diminished in 2008. This may
reflect a change of strategy on the part of the Ethiopian military and
fewer clashes with the ONLF, or may be the simple result of thousands of
people having now fled the region.[4]
The Eritrea and Somalia factors

Ethiopia accuses neighboring Eritrea of using the ONLF to start a proxy
war to destroy Ethiopia's economy. The two nations have been bitter
enemies since they fought an unresolved border war in 1998-2000.
Officials in Asmara deny that Eritrea is aiding the ONLF. They accuse
Ethiopia of using Eritrea as a scapegoat for its inability to settle
disputes with Ethiopia's numerous ethnic groups.[11] Both the ONLF and
Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) established a presence in Eritrea during
the Ethiopian-Eritrean war of 1998-2000, and received training as well
as logistical and military support.[4]
The 2007-2008 crackdown in the Somali region was also linked to
Ethiopian military operations in Somalia. One motive for Ethiopia's
ouster of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) in December 2006 may have
been to cut the links between the ONLF, the ruling Islamic Courts and
Eritrea, including arms and logistical supply lines from Eritrea and
Somalia to the ONLF in Ethiopia's eastern region.[2] Experts say the
ONLF was active in the Somali capital Mogadishu in 2006 when it was
controlled by Islamic Courts Union and that some Islamist fighters may
have fled to Ogaden after they were ousted from Mogadishu.[9] The
relations between the ONLF and militant Islamist Somali groups such as
al-Itihaad and Al-Shabaab are not clear. Although the Ethiopian
government frequently claims the groups are connected, according to the
Human Rights Watch ONLF and al-Shabaab clashed in the Somali Region in
late 2007. The ONLF repeatedly sought to distance itself from some of
the more militant Islamist groups operating in the region.[4]


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