Laurence Binet

The Ogaden region in the Somali regional state of Ethiopia has been the scene of conflict between the Ethiopian federal government and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) separatist movement since 1994. In April 2007, the fighting intensified. After a series of rebel offensives, a wave of repression hit the region, which saw villages attacked and burned, violence and forced displacements, denial of access to wells and a blockade on all commercial traffic, vital to the nomads who inhabit the area.

In 2007, MSF’s objective was to provide care for the victims of the conflict. In a region with very few medical facilities and a dispersed population, this meant supporting health centres and organising mobile clinics to go where patients were in need of treatment.

Since the beginning of 2007, the Dutch section’s team had been trying to set up a programme in the Wardher hospital on the outskirts of the conflict, but the army regularly denied MSF access to the population living in the area. After a rebel attack near its base in July, MSF decided on a temporary evacuation that was followed by the authorities banning the organisation from returning. Before pulling out, during the few rounds of medical consultations it had managed to hold, MSF had been able to collect witness reports on the acts of violence committed by the warring factions.

During the same period, the Belgian section was prohibited from completing an exploratory assessment at the centre of the conflict zone in the area around Fiq where it was preparing to start up a programme and the ICRC, accused by the Ethiopian authorities of supporting the ONLF, was expelled from the Somali region.
No other humanitarian organisations were active in the conflict-ridden areas of Ogaden. The army’s distribution of WFP aid raised questions of impartiality as it was suspected of using the aid to reward people for keeping their distance from the ONLF.
In early September, after a series of diplomatic meetings with Ethiopia’s main donors and other stakeholders that brought few results, MSF held a press conference to condemn the government’s refusal to allow humanitarian organisations into the Ogaden region.2 Accounts of human rights violations, documented by the Dutch section, were also cited at the press conference and reported by the international media.

The government then accused MSF of violating its sovereignty and supporting the ONLF.4 The Belgian section was ordered to close down its long-standing programme for tuberculosis patients outside the conflict zone and the ban on the Dutch team returning to Wardher was maintained.

Read the Original Report.



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