Fleeing Ogaden refugees recount tales of terror

Remote villagers were living in a happy life, performing traditional dances locally known as Daanto; children played hide-and seek; wives were making cheese and sewing clothes; men were playing chess (shax) and contesting the poems to pass time when they were not herding camels; young adults were rehearsing their newly-composed verses to attract singles; birds were singing their melodious songs. The rainy Gu’ season was approaching, the sky was dark-blue and the weather oozed out a breathtaking Saxansaxo fragrance.  This was Ogaden, a paradise on earth for its inhabitants.

But unfortunately their paradise turned into hell when Ethiopian soldiers equipped with latest weapons of mass murder descended on their locality and unleashed a merciless campaign of death and destruction, torturing, killing, raping and desecrating this once pristine land and its people.

The small hamlet of Guus-awl, which is located in Fiiq region, is one of the places that experienced Ethiopian barbarity.The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a rebel front fighting for the self-determination of Ogaden which is active in the region, attacked Ethiopian army camp near Guus-awl after villagers complained to the ONLF about frequent mistreatment they suffered at hands of Ethiopian troops stationed there.

The rebels routed the Ethiopian army units near Guus-awl and melted into dense forests of the countryside. However, Ethiopian army reinforcements arrived a little latter.

Knowing that Ethiopian troops will unleash their furry on them, some of the residents of Guus-awl escaped to the nearby caves when they heard news that the Ethiopian army was fast approaching their village.

“We knew that the army will massacre us in a revenge, so we had no choice but to run to the nearby caves and hide ourselves there,” said Roda Mohamoud Abdi, a 22 years old former Guus-awl resident who is now a refugee in a neighboring country.

After hiding in the caves for a while, Roda and 6 of her company felt hungry and went back back to the village, mistakenly assuming that the Ethiopian Army passed through the village. But Ethiopian soldiers stayed there all day long, terrorizing villagers and killing as many as 17 people. As they entered the outskirts of the village, army guards saw them, waved to them and apprehended them.

Roda and the others were then marched, on foot, all the way to Degehbur town after being beaten viciously. “We had been walking with the Army for eight days without eating or drinking with our hands tied behind our backs and our eyes closed,” said Roda.

After spending few days in Dhegehbur, Roda was transferred to the infamous ‘Jail Ogaden’ which is located in the regional capital Jigjiga where she was detained, severely tortured and held incommunicado for 3 years.

“They put me in a cell, twisted my shoulders with pliers, pressed a burning stick on my back and made me walk on broken glasses on my knees,” Roda recounted, displaying the scars on her back, her shoulders, and her knees.

Roda broke down and cried when she recalled one of her companion in the prison who was beaten up and kicked until her womb came out from her rear.

Roda is one example of many.

Despite the mountain of evidences the Ethiopian regime routinely denies the allegations of abuses and torture which  its army is carrying out – with impunity – in Ogaden. Up to now there has never been a single Ethiopian soldier persecuted for these abuses. In fact it is the opposite: the merciless soldiers who terrorize civilians are often promoted.

The Swedish Television recently aired videotaped evidence of Ethiopian troops standing on the corpses of murdered civilians in a place called Malqaqa. The material, which was smuggled out of Ethiopia by a defected civil servant, Abdullahi Hussein, shows footage of entire villages in the Ogaden that have been emptied of people through executions and flight from terror.

In November 2007 John Holmes, the U.N.’s humanitarian chief at the time, visited Ogaden region and called for an independent investigation to be conducted after he was alarmed at the scale of the atrocities. But his recommendation was not carried out and the situation has become worse.

Western states, mainly Great Britain and United States, have many interests in Ethiopia and are unlikely to put pressure on the Ethiopian regime. Ethiopia is one of the most aid-dependent countries in the world, receiving well over $2 billion in foreign assistance every year, of which the U.S. government has been providing roughly one fourth. In January 2009, the European Commission announced plans to give Ethiopia €250 million (approximately $330 million) in new assistance.

That money is used by the Ethiopian government to suppress its people, and in particular, to carry-out the widespread human violations in Ogaden.

The survivors of these atrocities who’re scattered throughout the world strongly urge the International Community to investigate the wide-spread war crimes and crimes against humanity which are still being committed in Ogaden Region, and the perpetrators to be held accountable. The people of Ogaden deserve justice and their voice should be heard.

By Ahmed Abdi, a freelance writer
Email: Halgan85@yahoo.com



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