በቀላሉ የመሥሪያ ማገናኛዎች

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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 Somalia.

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.



Ethiopia's ambassador to the United States, Samuel Assefa, said his goodbyes last week at a reception at the Ethiopian embassy. Today is his last official day in Washington.

"Farewell," said the former professor of philosophy and Addis Ababa University vice president, who took the hot seat when Ethiopia was suffering the aftermath of the 2005 election crisis. The diaspora was carrying the green-yellow-red national flag to protest the government arrest of members of the opposition in Addis.

The former academic also had to face Congress on a bill that would strong-arm his government into sweeping democratic reforms. "I thought it would be difficult, I had no idea what difficult meant," he recalls. Speakers at his reception said the ambassador did a good job in a tough situation, but reports are that a replacement is not coming anytime soon.

Five months after Yamamoto left Addis to become principal deputy assistant secretary in the State Department Bureau of African Affairs, there is no new ambassador in Addis.

"It is a mistake," says former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn, "that Washington has not assigned a full-time ambassador to Ethiopia. "The administration should have named someone several months ago.

"They are behind the curve already and the longer this drags out, the more difficult it is going to be for the United States to play the role it should be playing in Addis Ababa in the run-up to the election," said Shinn. The embassy is currently headed by Ambassador Roger Meece, who is retired from a lengthy career as a foreign service officer in embassies in central and western Africa. He is on temporary assignment to Addis as charge' d'affaires.

Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, who is now deputy assistant secretary of defense at thePentagon, served as charge' in Addis in the aftermath of the 2005 elections. She said Meece has the confident of the State Department. "So, I think he can do whatever a full-time ambassador can do."

Shinn said unless the White House names a candidate in the coming two weeks, the process of Senate confirmation will not come in time to place a new ambassador in Addis before the May 2010 elections.


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