NAIROBI, July 23 (Reuters) – Ogaden rebels warned of a looming "man-made famine" in Ethiopia’s remote area bordering Somalia and called on Monday for a U.N. investigation into accusations the government was blocking food aid to the region.
On Sunday, a New York Times report quoted Western diplomats and relief officials as saying Ethiopia’s government was blockading emergency food aid and choking off trade to Ogaden.
The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which is seeking more autonomy for its homeland but which Addis Ababa says it is a terrorist group bankrolled by Eritrea, called for a U.N. fact-finding mission.
"The ONLF wishes to affirm to the international community that if there is no immediate intervention in the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Ogaden, there will be a man-made famine created by the current regime of Meles Zenawi," the ONLF said in a statement.
Ethiopian government officials were not immediately available to comment.
On Monday, the ONLF said Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s administration was engaged in a systematic and deliberate campaign of violence against its people.
"These war crimes include diverting humanitarian assistance for use by the regime’s armed forces … deliberate burning of villages, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, torture, a blockade on food aid as well as other commercial goods and other forms of collective punishment," the ONLF said in a statement.
"The United Nations bears a particular responsibility to investigate war crimes in Ogaden given recent reports that its humanitarian assistance is deliberately being diverted to armed forces and militias responsible for these war crimes," it said.
The ONLF itself has been accused of carrying out atrocities, including an April raid on a Chinese-run oil field in which 74 people were killed and seven Chinese workers taken hostage.
They were later freed but in the wake of the attack, Meles announced a crackdown on the rebels.
It is difficult to get independent information out of the desolate region, which is ethnically Somali.