Sat, Jun 14, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Ethiopia denies atrocities claim

WAR CRIMES CRITICISM Human Rights Watch accused Western donors of failing to condemn rights abuses being conducted by government troops in the Ogaden region

AGENCIES , NAIROBI AND WASHINGTON

Ethiopia said yesterday a report by a human rights group accusing its military of war crimes during a campaign against rebels was fabricated and slanderous.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Western donors on Thursday of failing to condemn systematic atrocities committed by Ethiopian forces in the country’s eastern Ogaden region.

The government said the US-based group’s “groundless” report was based on information provided by sympathizers of the separatist rebel group the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

“Ethiopia will not tolerate fabricated reports and slandering campaigns aimed at satisfying somebody’s geo-political agenda,” the Information Ministry said in a statement reported by the state news agency ENA. “It is clear that such a campaign of defamation is the work of anti-peace forces that hate to see Ethiopia on the right track of development and democracy and the success of the peoples of Ethiopia in all sectors.”

Ethiopia, an important regional ally of Washington, accuses the rebels of abusing residents. It launched its latest offensive after ONLF fighters attacked a Chinese-run oil field in the region in April last year, killing more than 70 people.

HRW accused Western donors, including the US, the UK and the EU of maintaining a conspiracy of silence over the behavior of the Ethiopian military.

The US-based group issued two reports it said documented attacks on civilians in Ogaden, one based on witness accounts and another using satellite imagery to show villages that had been burned.

It said the government was limiting access to the region, that the violence was continuing and staff believed their findings represented only a fraction of the actual abuses.

Earlier, the US State Department said on Thursday it knows of allegations of human rights abuses by the Ethiopian military but continues a large military aid program in hopes of enticing the Horn of Africa country’s troops to abandon politics and become more professional.

Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos rejected, however, the allegation that the US is minimizing or even ignoring war crimes by the Ethiopians in Ogaden.

“We strongly reject Human Rights Watch’s contention,” he said.

He said officials have received the report and were “studying it carefully.”

Gallegos said the government has received reports from international nongovernmental organizations and other aid groups of serious abuses and harsh intimidation tactics by government soldiers and fighters of the ONLF.

“Our ambassador in Ethiopia has persistently raised concerns over human rights abuses with the highest level of the Ethiopian government, as have senior US government visitors to Addis Ababa,” Gallegos said. “US government military assistance to Ethiopia is designed to transform the military into an apolitical professional defense force that can secure its borders and protects human rights.”

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