Ethiopia Denies Red Cross Permission to Resume Ogaden Operation

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Ethiopia has denied the International Committee of the Red Cross permission to resume humanitarian operations in the restive Ogaden region. ICRC workers were expelled from the Ogaden nearly four years ago for allegedly aiding members of a separatist group, a charge they strongly deny.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger says talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi yielded no progress on the organization’s return to the eastern Ogaden region.

“I had bilateral talks yesterday. And it will not be possible in the very near future for us to go back to the Ogaden region,” Kellenberger said. “That’s the message I got.”icrc_ethiopia

Ethiopia ordered ICRC staff out of the mostly ethnic Somali region in July, 2007, accusing humanitarian workers of siding with rebels of the outlawed Ogaden National Liberation Front. The ICRC rejected the charges.

Ethiopia limits access to the Ogaden by journalists and humanitarian groups. But a recent US State Department human rights report suggests food and medicine deliveries are restricted in the conflict zone, as pro-government forces wage a counterinsurgency operation against increasingly violent ONLF rebels.

The challenge to humanitarian groups is compounded by a severe drought. The UN World Food Program estimates nearly eight-and-a-half million people are in need of food aid over a wide swath of the Horn of Africa, including southern and southeastern Ethiopia, as well as parts of neighboring Somalia and Kenya.

Kellenberger says the ICRC focuses its Somalia operation mainly on the parched south and central region that is the stronghold of the al-Qaida-linked extremist group al-Shabab. He admits it is hard to monitor food and water deliveries to ensure the aid is not being used to benefit al-Shabab.

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