- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2007

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (Agence France-Presse) — The United States and the United Nations expressed concern Saturday over an Ethiopian crackdown on insurgents in its restive Ogaden region, urging the government to respect human rights.

“We are indeed very concerned by reports we have heard of what is happening there, on the effects of military operations on the humanitarian situation there,” said U.N. aid chief John Holmes.

Mr. Holmes denounced a decision by Ethiopian authorities to expel two global charities — the Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) and International Committee of the Red Cross — from the area.

“We have been talking to the government of Ethiopia about this intensively,” he told reporters in Nairobi, Kenya.

Government forces are carrying out a military crackdown against rebel groups in the Ogaden, a vast territory in eastern Ethiopia.

Human rights groups have accused the army of razing villages, displacing thousands of civilians and imposing an economic blockade on the region, which has suffered flooding and drought.

“We urge all governments to respect the human rights, but it is difficult when you are fighting an insurgency,” said Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary for African affairs at the U.S. State Department.

“The Ethiopian government is dealing with an insurgency in Ogaden. Civilians are always the most negatively affected. We continue to ask the Ethiopian government to avoid those casualties,” she said, speaking in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.

The ICRC and MSF have been expelled from the flash-point region for purportedly meddling in politics.

The Ethiopian military launched its crackdown following an attack by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebel group against a Chinese oil venture in which 77 persons were killed.

The ONLF rebels, who declared a unilateral cease-fire Sunday to facilitate the mission, urged the “U.N. to put in place mechanisms that will protect the civilian population of Ogaden from continued war crimes.”

Formed in 1984, the ONLF is fighting for the independence of ethnic Somalis in Ogaden, saying they have been marginalized by the government.

Miss Frazer said the group is being supported by neighboring Eritrea.

“Eritrea is undermining the security and the stability in the Horn of Africa,” she said. “They harbor terrorists, it is a state sponsoring terrorism. We hope they will stop doing so. If not, we’ll see what actions to take.”

Ogaden, an arid area in the Somali state of eastern Ethiopia, is thought to contain oil and natural gas.

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