– Ogaden is one big prison, said Abdirahman Mahdi from seperatiströrelsen ONLF.

The trial of the Swedish journalist Martin Shibby and Johan Persson has been initiated in the Ethiopian capital Addis Adeba. They were arrested in the Ogaden where the military are committing abuses against the population and foreign companies exploiting natural resources. Free’ve met three exiletiopier all testify ills.

Published: Friday, October 21, 2011 | 10:10

• Ogaden is located in the southeastern part of Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country.

• The province consists mainly of Somali ethnic group that is culturally close to their Somali neighbors.

• The conflict in the Ogaden can be traced more than a century when European countries were cutting up the continent among themselves. 1948 left the UK over its remaining territories in the Ogaden to Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selasse I. Since then, the conflict has gradually been going on between the regime and faithful seperatiströrelser.

• In recent years the regime has done all further attempts to access the gas and oil in the area and negotiating with international companies. Rebels in the Ogaden have shown opposition to the deal, which has led to the regime increased militarization of the area. Thousands of people in the Ogaden have experienced abuse and forced from their homes.

Abdirahman Mahdi, international secretary of the Ogaden National Liberation Front, ONLF, a resistance movement, which since 1978 has fought to make the province of Ogaden in southeastern Ethiopia into an independent state. It was ONLF members of the two Swedish journalists traveled with before they were arrested.

– I have been a refugee for 50 years, says Mahdi on the phone from the UK where he lives in exile.

 The last time Abdirahman Mahdi visited Ethiopia from 1991 to 1993 when the ONLF took part in the formation of a trans-national government, when the Ethiopian army traveled on the setbacks of the guerrilla groups in Eritrea, Tigray and other parts of Ethiopia. ONLF negotiated ceasefire and autonomy in the Ogaden. It ended with several members of parliament were killed and the ONLF took up arms again.

– I feared for my own life and was forced to leave Ethiopia, once again, said Abdirahman Mahdi.

 Mahdi talking about today’s Ogaden as an almost trackless place where international aid is prevented from arriving while the area’s farmers and herders experienced the worst drought in 60 years. Seven divisions with about 8000 soldiers from the army in the Ogaden. ONLF’s operations are primarily out to make their presence, but it has also been reported that they had killed nearly 70 civilians during an attack on a Chinese oil field in 2007.

– The regime posted abusing, raping, murdering and burning villages before they force people into particular settlements in the cities. When land is cleared to those in power, together with foreign companies make up about how to exploit natural deposits, says Mahdi.

Today leased agricultural and grazing on hundreds of thousands of acres out to foreign companies for a few per hectare per year. On land masses grow and export roses, future biofuels and palm oil.

– We must put pressure on the leadership to ensure our people basic human rights and together lay the foundation for long-term peace, said Abdirahman Mahdi.

Ethiopia Ahmed Farah Mohamud is chairman of the Ogaden Refugees Committee, ORC, in Nairobi, Kenya. He sought asylum in the neighboring country in 2008 after having guided a team from the New York Times in the Ogaden. He worked as both a Japanese-funded non-political organization and the government’s regional office in Jigjiga for questions about water, energy and mining.

Mohamud felt over time more and more concern that suddenly arrested, tortured and imprisoned, as the government gradually increased its control of dissident individuals.

– I was accused of having facilitated utsmuggling of information on abuses against local people, says Mohamud.

When he saw the long list of accusations, he decided to leave. Although he was innocent, he knew he would be folded into the country’s politically controlled courts.

– When I left the city were arrested about twenty colleagues to me by the security forces and endured the sufferings I managed to escape, saying Ahmed Farah Mohamud.

As for the trial of the two Swedes, he urges both the Government of Sweden and other countries to clearly distance themselves from the abuse that occurs.

– Prime Minister Meles Zenawi himself to use the detention and trial as a way to win political compromises from Sweden and abroad. The international community must clearly demonstrate that they are prepared to defend basic human rights as the right to seek information.

Ali has since 2002 lived in Sweden. He has previously been imprisoned on three occasions for a total of a few months in Ethiopia.

– A day in prison felt like a year. I could not turn around when I was sleeping because it was so crowded.

He was editor of one of the many more or less independent newspapers that were in the country before 2005. When he was arrested for the third time in 2001 warned of a source within the justice system to a multi-year prison sentence was waiting for him to stop.

If he returns in two days waiting for the prosecution that he has written critically of the regime.

– During the 2005 election was the first time opposition politicians were allowed to appear on TV, journalists were questioning those in power and ballots for the various lots were distributed. Prime Minister Zenawi and his coalition had misjudged that they had people on their side, but also wanted to show the world that they become democratic, says Ali.

The opposition won officially 40 percent of the vote, something few would have expected. It was Prime Minister and his coalition Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, EPRDF, to close most of the media outlets and imprisoning journalists and opposition politicians.

Last year also introduced a new terrorism law. It is no longer just movements that ONLF as terrorist stamped. Both those who criticized the government and the international representative who is suspected of having dealings with government opponents can be identified.

Ali says that most Ethiopians today are quiet. But they are hungry and soon, they have no bread left.

– Food prices increase and wages fall. The regime receives money from foreign companies but do not invest in their own population. The availability of food is monitored by the security forces in the same manner as a dog owner controls how much the animal will eat. But when the bowl is empty, the people will bite back.

Ali says he can die happy the day he sees the country democratized by peaceful means. It would in that case the first time in its history a power grab occurred without using weapons.

Ali’s real name is something else.

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