A colleague of Mohammed’s in the UN Department of Safety and Security, Abdirahman Sheikh Hassan, is being prosecuted for links with the same designated terrorist group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front. The group operates in Ethiopia’s Somali region, which is inside Ethiopia but is majority Somali ethnic. Mr. Hassan’s arrest in July came shortly after he negotiated the release of two abducted UN World Food Program workers with leaders of the ethnic-Somali insurgents.

While Prime Minister Meles Zenawi‘s two-decade-old government welcomes international assistance as it strives to haul Africa’s second-most populous nation out of poverty, there is no doubt about who’s in charge.

“The UN and any other member of the international community are caught between a rock and a hard place,” says an aid worker with years of experience in the Somali region, who asked not to be named. “While there is clearly some great work going on in many key sectors, if anybody were to push their agenda beyond a limit considered acceptable by Ethiopia’s notoriously strong and rigid government, then they would risk being expelled from the country.” Or, he says, if you are Ethiopian; imprisoned.

Confidentially – public protestations may jeopardize career advancement – UN staff tell of regular harassment by the Ethiopian authorities: equipment is impounded at customs, UN workers’ spouses are denied work permits, and vehicles are searched in contravention of the government’s 53-year-old agreement with the organization.

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