A communiqué sent to news agencies by e-mail says a
multi-front offensive launched by the Ogaden National Liberation Front November
10th is still in progress.The communiqué,
believed to be sent from ONLF offices in Europe, says 626 Ethiopian troops have
died, and the battlefields are littered
with bodies of soldiers.
It describes ONLF casualties as 'minimal', but gives no details. Another rebel communiqué
issued Friday said the rebels had captured seven towns along the border with
The reports could not be independently verified. Journalists are not permitted
into the region. But Ethiopian government spokesman Shimelis Kemal told VOA's
Peter Heinlein in Addis Ababa the ONLF claims are completely false.In a telephone interview, he described
the communiqués as a desperate measure used occasionally by the rebels to
portray the region as being in turmoil.
"This group used to make exaggerated claims,” said Shimelis.“This is the usual lie, deliberately fabricated
by this terrorist group."
Shimelis denied any government troops had been killed, and said the current
fighting is between the rebels and local militia groups.
"The rebels were expelled and defeated by the local militia,” the
Ethiopian government spokesman said, “The army was not involved there."
Ethiopia calls the rebels 'terrorists' backed by neighboring rival Eritrea and
with ties to the Somali insurgent group al-Shabab. Eritrea and the ONLF both
deny the links, and there is no independent verification of the charges.
Government troops launched a fierce offensive against the ONLF in early 2007
after the rebels attacked a Chinese owned oil exploration field in Ethiopia's
Ebole district, killing 74 people.The
ONLF accused the troops of conducting a 'scorched earth' campaign, a claim that
was strongly denied by the government.
The United Nations twice requested access to the region to conduct independent
human rights assessments. Ethiopia refused the requests.
Government spokesman Shimelis said that 2007 offensive effectively ended the
ONLF's military capability. "Since the Ebole incident, the ONLF bandit
group is on the run,” he said. “Recently however, they have tried to raid some
administrations in the localities, and that attempt had been effectively
defeated by the local militia."
Ethiopia has recently attempted to assure oil companies the ONLF no longer has
the ability to threaten exploration and production in the Ogaden region. But
Ethiopia's mines and energy minister was quoted this week as saying no
petroleum reserves had been found in the country despite years of search.
The ONLF has been fighting for greater autonomy or
independence for the Ogaden since Ethiopia seized the mostly Somali speaking
region in a war with Somalia more than 30 years ago.