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US cable: Ethiopia govt terrified by ONLF rebels

ONLF fighters from Ethiopia's Ogaden region

© ONLF/afrol News
afrol News, 16 February
- The low-level conflict in Ethiopia's Ogaden region is far more dangerous to the government's survival than earlier assumed, a secret US report reveals. Government fears for its future.

In a diplomatic cable, sent by US Ambassador Donald Yamamoto in Addis Ababa in November 2007 and recently leaked by Wikileaks, it is made clear that the insurgency by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) is strongly worrying the Ethiopian government.

"Because, the government of Ethiopia's core Tigrean People's Liberation Front (TPLF) sees in the ONLF an image of itself two decades ago when it overthrew the brutal communist Derg regime, Prime Minister Meles [Zenawi] and his Chief of Defence Force, General Samora Yonus, consider it vital to eliminate the ONLF before this insurgent group gains wider support," Ambassador Yamamoto sums up.

"It is our assessment that Prime Minister Meles and the government of Ethiopia leadership likely view the ONLF as a long term threat to the survival of the EPRDF government," the Ambassador details, mentioning similarities between the ONLF and Mr Meles' TPLF.

The US Ambassador reveals that this assessment is not his own, but comes from the Ethiopian government itself. "It is apparent from our conversations that the Prime Minister, General Samora and other TPLF/EPRDF members view the military defeat of the ONLF now as critical to prevent it from posing a threat to the government in the future," he wrote.

The assessment of Prime Minister Meles' fear of the ONLF comes a few months after an ONLF attack on a Chinese oil exploration site and the following brutal counter-attack by the Ethiopian army. Even the US Ambassador - a close ally to the Meles regime - admits the counter-attack had been "extreme, visceral" and "brutal".

The US cable also confirms earlier reports by human rights groups, strongly rejected by the Ethiopian government, that the army made "use of extreme force trapping the civilian population bet

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi

© Eskinder Debebe/UN Photo/afrol News
ween the insurgents and the government forces."

Ambassador Yamamoto also reveals why the ONLF "shockingly successful" attack on the Chinese oil explorers caused so much fear among the Ethiopian leadership. "The attack was an embarrassment for the ENDF, its failure to protect the oil project site and respond immediately against the attackers," he writes.

But, apart from prestige, the most important reason was the economy, which is the Meles government's largest success and its main legitimacy to stay in power. The ONLF attack had threatened government's "vision for economic development" by indicating foreign investments in Ethiopia could be insecure. This "posed a fundamental threat to the government of Ethiopia's authority."

The US Ambassador finally casts doubts over Ethiopian statements that had defended the brutal counter-attack in Ogaden with a need to stop "foreign insurgents and extremists." No convincing evidence had been presented to government claims of Eritrean support for the ONLF or a Somali infiltration in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is pressuring the US and African neighbours to list the ONLF as a terrorist group - which so far has not been done by any nation. Ambassador Yamamoto in 2007 said he did not agree and had "explained to the government of Ethiopia that while the ONLF is not a terrorist group, we recognise the probability that there are some individuals within the ONLF that may be supportive of extremist groups."

Ambassador Yamamoto advised government in Washington push Prime Minister Meles towards a less confrontational strategy in Ogaden, where "military action alone will not bring a lasting resolution." More humanitarian aid to the "already underdeveloped and historically marginalised region" needed to be provided, he advised.

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