Ethiopia blocks food aid in Ogaden/ L’Éthiopie bloque l’aide alimentaire en Ogaden

Provenant du International Herald Tribune, l’Éthiopie bloque la région de l’Oganden et intercepte les aides alimentaires destinées aux populations locales. Ce sont d’anciens membres du gouvernement éthiopien et des agents de l’ONU qui font part de cette situation.

According to the International Herald Tribune:

The Ethiopian government is blockading emergency food aid and choking off trade to large swaths of a remote region in the eastern part of the country that is home to a rebel force, putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk of starvation, Western diplomats and humanitarian officials say.

The Ethiopian military and its proxy militias have also been siphoning off millions of dollars in international food aid, and using a United Nations polio eradication program to funnel money to their fighters, according to relief officials, former Ethiopian government administrators and a member of the Ethiopian Parliament who defected to Germany last month to protest the government’s actions.

The blockade takes aim at the heart of the Ogaden region, a vast desert on the Somali border where the government is struggling against a growing rebellion and where government soldiers have been accused by human rights groups of widespread brutality.

Humanitarian officials say the ban on aid convoys and commercial traffic, intended to squeeze the rebels and dry up their bases of support, has sent food prices skyrocketing and disrupted trade routes, preventing the nomads who live there from selling their livestock. Hundreds of thousands of people are now sealed off in a desiccated, unforgiving landscape that is difficult to survive in even in the best of times.

“Food cannot get in,” said Mohammed Diab, the director of the United Nations World Food Program in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian government says the blockade covers only strategic locations, and is meant to prevent guns and matériel from reaching the Ogaden National Liberation Front, the rebel force that the government considers a terrorist group. In April, the rebels killed more than 60 Ethiopian guards and Chinese workers at a Chinese-run oil field in the Ogaden.

“This is not a government which punishes its people,” said Nur Abdi Mohammed, a government spokesman.

But Western diplomats have been urging Ethiopian officials to lift the blockade, arguing that the many people in the area are running out of time. “It’s a starve-out-the-population strategy,” said one Western humanitarian official, who did not want to be quoted by name because he feared reprisals against aid workers. “If something isn’t done on the diplomatic front soon, we’re going to have a government-caused famine on our hands.”

The blockade, which involves soldiers and military trucks cutting off the few roads into the central Ogaden, comes as Congress is increasingly concerned about Ethiopia’s human rights record.

Ethiopia is a close American ally and a key partner in America’s counterterrorism efforts in the Horn of Africa, a region that has become a breeding ground for Islamic militants, many of whom have threatened to wage a holy war against Ethiopia.

The country receives nearly half a billion dollars in American aid each year, but this week, a House subcommittee passed a bill that would put strict conditions on some of that aid and ban Ethiopian officials linked to rights abuses from entering the United States. The House also recently passed an amendment, sponsored by J. Randy Forbes, a Virginia Republican, that stripped Ethiopia of $3 million in assistance to “send a strong message that if they don’t wake up and pay attention, more money will be cut,” Forbes said.

Ethiopia’s pardon on Friday of 30 political prisoners who had been sentenced to life in prison could ease some criticism. But Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, is pushing ahead with measures to more closely vet assistance to the Ethiopian military. According to human rights groups and firsthand accounts, government troops have gang raped women, burned down huts and killed civilians.

American officials in Ethiopia said they were trying to investigate the situation but that the Ogaden was too dangerous right now for a fact-finding mission. American officials said they had heard persistent reports of burned villages and that the blockade was putting the area on the cusp of a crisis.

Villagers say that anyone who criticizes the government risks getting killed. According to Ogaden Online, a Canadian-based news service that has been highly critical of the Ethiopian government and covers the region through a network of reporters and contributors, some equipped with satellite phones, four young men who were videotaped by The New York Times at a community meeting in an Ogaden village in May were later tortured and executed.

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