From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Sun May 15 2011 - 16:14:40 EDT
Ethiopia, UN Mount Joint Search Operation for Kidnapped Aid Workers
Peter Heinlein | Addis Ababa
May 15, 2011
Ethiopia and U.N. security agencies have launched a search for two aid
workers apparently kidnapped in an ambush in the insurgency-wracked Ogaden
region. One other worker was killed in the incident and a fourth was
Details of the incident are sketchy. Officials of the U.N. World Food
Program say two of their vehicles were ambushed by unknown gunmen Friday in
the remote Somali region of Eastern Ethiopia, also known as the Ogaden.
The region is home to a violent separatist group known as the Ogaden
National Liberation Front, which is fighting for independence from Ethiopia.
Officials say four local WFP employees were aboard the two Land Cruisers
when they were attacked along the road between the main town of Jijiga and
the Fiq zone, an area of heavy rebel activity about 175 kilometers to the
The incident occurred while the men were on a mission to monitor food aid
distribution in the drought-stricken region.
WFP spokesman Judith Schuler says the attackers killed one driver,
identified as Farhan Hamsa, and wounded the other driver. They apparently
then took the two aid monitors hostage before setting their vehicles on
"Two vehicles were burned down, said Schuler. "One staff member was killed
by bullets, and the other one got rescued, but we do not have information
how that happened."
Schuler says a joint operation is underway by Ethiopian and UN security
agencies to locate the two missing aid workers.
"The local authorities together with WFP and the U.N. system in Ethiopia are
doing their utmost to find them as soon as possible, but we do not know how
fast these searches are going to progress," added Schuler.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Ethiopia's government
spokesman Shimelis Kemal Sunday said he was still awaiting word from the
region about details of the incident.
The Ogaden rebels, meanwhile, issued a statement condemning what they called
the "cowardly and cold-blooded attack". The ONLF statement sent to
journalists by email says the ambush was the work of Ethiopian security
forces attempting to make it look like a rebel terrorist attack. Ethiopian
officials have in the past scoffed at such allegations.
The dead driver, Farhan Hamsa, is the second WFP employee to be killed in
East Africa in less than a month. A senior program assistant was killed in a
similar incident April 22nd in Southern Sudan when a vehicle he was
travelling in was attacked.
Ethiopia's largely pastoralist Ogaden, along its eastern border with
Somalia, is currently in the grip of a severe drought threatening the lives
of livestock and people. The government last month increased its estimate of
the number of people needing emergency assistance in the Somali region to
1.3 million, or more than 25 percent of the population.
Ethiopia, caught off guard by the sudden onset of the current drought, this
month was forced to reduce the size of emergency rations to many of the
country's 3.2 million food aid recipients. But the Somali region was
exempted from the cutbacks due to the severity of the drought there.
Ethiopia sharply restricts journalists and humanitarian aid workers access
to the Ogaden conflict zone, where a counterinsurgency operation is in
progress. Human-rights and aid groups have accused both the ONLF and
pro-government forces with numerous rights violations, charges both sides
Last month, Ethiopia refused permission to the International Committee of
the Red Cross to resume operations in the Ogaden. ICRC workers were expelled
from the region nearly four years ago for allegedly aiding the rebels, a
charge the ICRC denies.
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