ADDIS ABABA: As Ethiopia let free some 74 political leaders and members of a tiny rebel group, the Benshangul People’s Liberation Movement (BPLM) this past week, other groups are demanding that their prisoners who remain behind bars are also set free.
Groups in Ogaden in the Eastern part of the country are demanding answers as to where their family and friends who have been rounded up in recent months have gone.
“We just want to know where they are right now,” a leader for the Ogaden front told Bikyanews.com. “This is wrong that people are set free and our young men and boys remain hidden.”
The move was part of a peace agreement signed last year between the Ethiopian government and the Benishangul rebels after more than two years of negotiations.
Kalayu Gebrehiwot, general director of conflict prevention and management within the federal affairs ministry said other remaining exiled members of the group are also expected to return home.
The group has in the past carried out a number of attacks in different parts of the Benishangul region bordering neighboring Sudan.
It has been reported that the released rebel members have expressed remorse for their previous actions and promised to actively engage in developmental activities.
According to the peace pact, the BPLM faction agreed to lay down their arms and end their armed struggle.
Tension between Addis Ababa and the Ogaden rebels has been running high recently, despite efforts to end the government-led conflict.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported that the government “has tried to stem the flow of information from the region. Some foreign journalists who have attempted to conduct independent investigations have been arrested and residents and witnesses have been threatened and detained in order to prevent them from speaking out.”
Aid workers with the United Nations (UN), Medecines Sans Frontiers (MSF) and the International Committee of The Red Cross, plus journalists from a range of western papers, including The New York Times have all had staff expelled and/or detained, by the Ethiopian regime, which speaks of democracy yet does act not in accordance with its own liberal constitution and consistently violates international law, with total impunity.
Last year, An independent news website covering Ethiopia’s Ogaden region, Ogadentoday, has called for a global investigation into what they termed the “Ogaden Genocide.”
The call came in response to videos posted by Swedish National Television (SVT) concerning and detailing human rights abuses in Ethiopia’s eastern region near the Somalia border.
“The latest video is about the Mal-Qaqa massacre that took place in June 10, 2010 after when Ethiopian Paramilitary Liyu Police attacked the village and has executed an entirely population in the area,” the statement said, adding that a SVT fixer had recently visited the area.
“We, Ogadentoday Press an Information website and advocates promoting human right and freedom of media are calling for the International Community to take an urgent action about the ongoing genocide,” the statement continued.
It also called on the Ethiopian government to investigate the reports of widespread human rights abuses in the Ogaden region.
Earlier this month, the Ogaden National Liberation Force (ONLF) and the government announced they were entering peace negotiations to end the armed conflict that has seen thousands of citizens killed in nearly three decades of fighting.
10 members from both sides Ethiopia and ONLF held the meeting and the meeting took place, on September 6 and September 7 in Nairobi, according to an ONLF statement.
According to the ONLF statement, “there are the general principles agreed upon” that would be the basis for resolving the conflict. It is unclear how far the government is willing to move in dealing with the ONLF, but one government official told Bikyanews.com on condition of anonymity that “there is hope across both sides that we can compromise and begin to end the violence.”
Despite the optimism surrounding the Kenya negotiations, violations of human rights has apparently continued in the Eastern region.
Two Ethiopian women have accused the country’s military of sexually abusing and raping them while they were detained after a crackdown in the Eastern Ogaden state near the Somalia border.
Abdikarim Rabi, a human rights reporter with SVT, sent Bikyanews.com a short interview he had conducted with Rokia Muhammad, who said she and other women were repeatedly raped.
“They have raped me and many other women,” she told Rabi.
According to Muhammad, she is emotionally traumatized as well as having physical “traces of the treatment in prison.”
In an interview with SVT, she showed her head, which had areas of hair ripped out as she said she was dragged, naked, in the Ogaden jail.
Another woman, who asked not to be named, had escaped to Addis Ababa where she is receiving treatment for her injuries suffered in an Ogaden jail at the hands of the military.
“They would take me from my cell at least once or twice a day and rape me. The soldiers would take turns on me and other women. It was the worst experience of my life and I just want to forget and move on,” she told Bikyanews.com.