Somali women fighters from the Ogaden region of Ethiopia.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
Sat Sep 8, 6:14 PM ET
The United States and the United Nations expressed concern Saturday at an Ethiopian crackdown on insurgents in its restive Ogaden region, urging the government to respect human rights.
"We are indeed very concerned by reports we have heard of what is happening there, on the effects of military operations on the humanitarian situation there," said UN aid chief John Holmes.
Holmes denounced a decision by Ethiopian authorities to expel two global charities -- the Medecins Sans Frontiers and International Committee for the Red Cross -- from the area.
"We have been talking to the government of Ethiopia about this intensively," he told reporters in Nairobi.
Government forces are carrying out a military crackdown against rebel groups in the Ogaden, a vast territory in southeastern Ethiopia.
Human rights groups have accused the army of razing villages, displacing thousands of civilians and imposing an economic blockade on the region, which has suffered flooding and drought.
"We urge all governments to respect the human rights, but it is difficult when you are fighting an insurgency," said Jendayi Frazer, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs at the US State Department.
"The Ethiopian government is dealing with an insurgency in Ogaden. Civilians are always the most negatively affected. We continue to ask the Ethiopian government to avoid those casualties," Frazer said, speaking in Addis Ababa.
A UN fact-finding mission left the region on Thursday and Holmes said he was waiting for their report. The rebels claim that the government has carried out rights abuses in Ogaden.
The ICRC and MSF have been expelled from the flashpoint region for allegedly meddling in politics.
The Ethiopian military launched their crackdown following an attack by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebel group against a Chinese oil venture in which 77 people were killed.
A United Nations fact-finding mission is currently in the Ogaden region but it is unclear whether they were allowed to enter some of the areas described by MSF as the worst-hit.
The ONLF rebels, who declared a unilateral ceasefire Sunday to facilitate the mission, urged the "UN to put in place mechanisms that will protect the civilian population Ogaden from continued war crimes."
Formed in 1984, the ONLF is fighting for the independence of ethnic Somalis in Ogaden, saying they have been marginalised by Addis Ababa.
Frazer said the group was being supported by neighbouring Eritrea.
"Eritrea is undermining the security and the stability in the Horn of Africa," she said. "They harbor terrorists, it is a state sponsoring terrorism. We hope they will stop doing so if not we'll see what actions to take."
Ogaden, an arid area in the Somali state of eastern Ethiopia, is believed to contain oil and natural gas, but rebel activities have scuppered efforts to carry out conclusive explorations.