Ethiopia: Somali Warriors Deliver


December 16, 2009: The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) has been threatening to launch another series of assaults on oil exploration crews and oil production companies in Ethiopia's Ogaden region. The rebels are specifically threatening a Malaysian oil company and a Canadian firm. The threats get immediate attention because everyone remembers the big ONLF raid in April 2007 on a Chinese oil project. That attack got the ONLF almost everything it wanted: headlines and a withdrawal from oil operations in the region by China's Sinopec petroleum company. Over the past two months the ONLF has also come out and fought the Ethiopian Army, though there is an on-going propaganda battle over just how significant the firefights with Ethiopian main forces have been. Still, the ambushes, small-scale hit-and-run actions, and a series of attacks on towns in the Ogaden (executed in November) are another political signal. The Ethiopian Army contends it months-long offensive damaged the ONLF. Now the ONLF wants to signal it still has strength. Much of that strength comes across the border from Somalia, from fellow ethnic Somalis the ONLF. But the Ethiopian government claims the ONLF operates  from bases in Eritrea. The ONLF is largely an ethnic Somali organization. Its charter demands independence for the Ogaden. In fact one reason it took up arms was because a referendum on Ogaden independence was supposed to be held by Ethiopia –way back in 1994.

December 11, 2009: The Ethiopian government disputed claims by the ONLF that the rebel group had taken control of seven towns in the Ogaden region during fighting in November. The rebels also claimed they engaged a large Ethiopian Army force and killed a thousand soldiers. The government called this claim false. NGOs in the region reported that the ONLF had launched a couple of dozen attacks, but that the claims of taking towns was exaggerated. In an earlier statement, made at the end of November, the Ethiopian government said local militia forces had killed 245 ONLF rebel fighters launched several “desperate” attacks throughout the Ogaden.

November 20, 2009: The Ethiopian government said a court had convicted 27 people –including two former generals-- accused of trying overthrow the government. Several of the defendants accused the government of physical abuse while in jail. This has been a highly sensitive case in Ethiopia, since several of the defendants are regarded as war heroes for their service in the Ethiopia-Eritrea War.

November 19, 2009: The UN Security Council is preparing to take further action against Eritrea. Ethiopia has been lobbying for a complete arms embargo against Eritrea and it may well get it. Uganda has taken the political lead and is pushing for the embargo because it has peacekeepers in Somalia. Ethiopia and a number of other East African and European nations accuse Eritrea of supplying the Somali Islamist al Shabaab with weapons and money. It is a slam dunk certainty  that Eritrea believes this. The U.S. is involved and wants a very broad definition of military equipment in the embargo. A draft of the embargo resolution supposedly includes a ban on providing Eritrea with ammo and weapons, but also specifies spare parts. A tight sanctions regimen might include all motor vehicle spare parts, since Eritrea's “mobilized nation” (“total resistance”) strategy makes no difference between military and civilian assets. Military training assistance and financing assistance will also be embargoed.

November 14, 2009: The government of Eritrea denied international claims that the nation will suffer from food shortages in 2010. essentially the government said that the rest of the Horn of Africa might had food shortages and face starvation, but Eritrea would not. A recent UN agricultural and nutrition study reported that two out of three Eritreans are malnourished.


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