Ogaden National Liberation Front

Ogaden National Liberation Front
Participant in the Ethiopian Civil War and Insurgency in Ogaden
ONLF flag.svg
Flag of the ONLF
Active 1984-present[1][2]
Headquarters Somali region
Opponents Derg, TPLF
Battles/wars Ethiopian Civil War
Insurgency in Ogaden

The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) (Amharic: ኦጋዴን፡ብሔራዊ፡ነፃነት፡ግንባር?; Somali: Jabhadda Wadaniga Xoreynta Ogaadeenya, JWXO), is a separatist rebel group fighting to make the region of Ogaden in eastern Ethiopia an independent state. ONLF, established in 1984, demands for the autonomy of this region, and claimed responsibility for several attacks since the beginning of 2007 aimed at Ethiopian forces in the area, which the government considers a region under the new federal system. The area of the Ogaden region stretches at least about 400 thousand square kilometers. There live nearly eight million people, mainly Somali.

Because Ogaden is populated by many ethnic Somalis, the ONLF claims that Ethiopia is an occupying government. However, the Ogaden people are represented in the Ethiopian government by a number of groups, including the opposition Somali People's Democratic Party (SPDP). The ONLF is composed mainly of members of the Ogaden clan, specifically "the Rer Abdalle sub-clan of the Mohammed Zubeir."[3]

The armed wing of the ONLF is the Ogaden National Liberation Army (ONLA). The ONLF has been designated a terrorist group by the Ethiopian government.



Territories inhabited by ethnic Somalis. Area of ONLF operations, as of May 2007, shaded in red within the green area marking Ethiopian territory.

The ONLF was founded in 1984 by six people: Abdirahman Mahdi, the Chairman of the Western Somali Liberation Movement Youth Union, Mohamed Ismail Omar of the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF), Sheikh Ibrahim Abdalla Mohamed (WSLF), Abdi Ibrahim Ghehleh (WSLF-Trade Union), Abdirahman Yusuf Magan (WSLF) and Abdulahi Muhammed Sa'adi (WSLF). The ONLF is currently led by Chairman Mohammed Omar Osman, who was elected to the post at a 1998 national convention.

ONLF was formed after the defeat of Somalia in the 1977 Ogaden War. ONLF systematically recruited WSLF members and replaced WSLF in the Ogaden as Somalian support for the WSLF dwindled and finally ended in the late 1980s. By the time Mengistu regime fell, the ONLF had fully consolidated its position among ethnic Somalis in Ogaden, and joined the Transitional Government. The ONLF announced elections in December 1992 for District Five (what became the Somali Region) in Ethiopia, and won 80% of the seats of the local parliament. ONLF nominated Abdullahi Muhumed Sa'di for the Region's presidency, and other members for the vice-presidency and the Executive body; the regional parliament elected them in a majority vote. ONLF elected officials ruled the territory until the transitional government ended with the adoption of a new constitution. At that time the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front pushed for a new partner in the region, which led to the founding of the Ethiopian Somali Democratic League (ESDL) at Hurso in 1993. The ESDL then won the Somali seats in the 1995 general elections, pushing the ONLF out of power. The ONLF then accused the Ethiopian government of oppressing its members, while ONLF was accused of killing other Somali politicians and elders.

The ONLF continues to operate in the Ogaden as of 2011. The Ethiopian military has stepped up its actions against ONLF following the organizations stated that it would attack the Malaysian oil company Petronas, which plans to extract oil from the Ogaden Basin. Even though there are some developments including a new university in the Somali state region, new schools, hospital and Somali language television programs, full development has been restrained in the area because of the fighting between ONLF and government forces.[4]

In 2005 Ethiopia proposed peace talks with ONLF. ONLF accepted on the condition that talks be held in a neutral country and with the presence of a neutral arbiter from the international community, but the talks broke down due to Ethiopia's insistence that the two parties meet directly in a location in or around the Horn of Africa. ONLF became a part of the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy on May 22, 2006 but the alliance has not achieved any progress since its creation.[5]

On 12 August 2006, 13 members of the ONLF were killed and several commanders were claimed captured as they crossed into Ethiopia from Somalia.[6] The ONLF repudiated this claim, stating that it was intended to reassure prospective oil prospecting companies from Malaysia and China that Ethiopia is in control of the Ogaden territory.[7]

ONLF rebels practicting Salah, Muslim daily prayers

Ogadenia confusion

The ONLF mostly recruits from the Ogaden subclan, which constitutes roughly half of the regional population.[8]

Some maps label the entire Somali Region area with "Ogadēn".[8][9] However, many other Somali clans and sub-clans reside in the area, and animosity between the pro-ONLF Ogadenis and other Somali clans in the area remains very deeply rooted. For many, calling the region "Ogaden" is "rightly or wrongly, associated with majority rule by the Ogaadeen clans, respectively with their claim for power within the Somali Regional State".[10] The Ethiopian government has exploited these rivalries by arming local Somali militias to fight the ONLF.[8] Yet, some Ogaden members have complained that other Somali clans are getting over-represented in the regional government.[11] Writer Mohamed Mohamud Abdi states that the territory has been under occupation since the Scramble for Africa, and that the inhabitants have been unable to choose their own name for the land.[12]

Border issues

The nomadic lifestyle of Somali people has led to their occupation of disproportionally larger territory than other ethnic groups in the Horn of Africa who have greater populations than Somalis, especially the neighboring Oromos. Small and big conflicts have occurred between Somalis, Oromos and Afars in the disputed border regions for several centuries. The Somali region of Ethiopia, often labeled Ogaden, also used to be known as Hararghe in the pre-1991 map of Ethiopia. The pre-1991 map showed Somalis inhabiting a large part of today's northeast Oromia, while the post-1991 map shows the Ogaden region occupying Oromia's pre-1991 Bale region. Ogaden nationalists have stated that Dire Dawa and various towns, including Mieso, Bardoda, Babille, Fanyaanbiiro, Jinacsani and other regions, were incorporated into Oromia by the Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization (OPDO) following a 2004 plebiscite.[13] Some Oromo liberation fighters believe a large chunk of Ogaden's territory belongs to them.[14][15][16] In February 2009, 300 people were killed and over 100,000 people displaced during a conflict outside the border town of Moyale between an Oromo clan and a Somali clan.[17]

Pan Somali

Unlike other Ethiopian ethnic groups like the Oromo and Gurage, the Somali ethnic group in general (and the Ogaden sub-clan in particular) do not have religious diversity. Around 99% of the Ogaden people practice Islam.

Effects on Ethiopia and the Somali Civil War

ONLF rebels

On November 28, 2006, the ONLF threatened that it would not allow Ethiopian troops to stage into Somalia from their territories.[18] On December 23, the ONLF claimed to have attacked an Ethiopian column near Baraajisale heading to Somalia, destroying 4 of 20 vehicles, inflicting casualties and driving the convoy back.[19] No independent source has confirmed the attack.

On January 10, 2007, ONLF condemned Ethiopia's entry into the War in Somalia, stating that Meles Zenawi's invasion of Somalia demonstrates that his government has been an active participant in the Somali conflict with a clear agenda aimed at undermining the Somali sovereignty.[20] However the Somalia government thanked the Ethiopian government for its assistance in Mogadishu. On January 15, ONLF rebels attacked Ethiopian soldiers in Kebri Dahar, Gerbo, and Fiq. Five Ethiopian soldiers and one ONLF rebel were reported killed.[21]

According to the Chicago Tribune, "As of 2007, human-rights groups and media reports accuse Ethiopia – a key partner in Washington's battle against terrorism in the volatile Horn of Africa – of burning villages, pushing nomads off their lands and choking off food supplies in a harsh new campaign of collective punishment against a restive ethnic Somali population in the Ogaden, a vast wilderness of rocks and thorns bordering chaotic Somalia".[22] In April 2007, the Ethiopian government imposed a total commercial trade embargo on the war-affected area of Somali Region (the Fiq, Degehabur, Gode, Korahe, and Werder Zones, where the Ogadeni Somali live), prohibiting all commercial truck movement in the region and across the border into Somalia, as well as the free movement of livestock by foot.[23] A tightly restricted and monitor tour by western journalist in the embattled region on the invitation of the regional administration reported on more alleged crimes by the Ethiopian government. A report by a Newsweek reporter detailed how Ethiopian military troops stormed a village southeast of Degahabur, accused the villagers of sympathizing with the ONLF, then razing the village and torturing and murdering many of the inhabitants.[24]

Abole Raid, subsequent conflict

On April 24, 2007, members of the ONLF attacked a Chinese-run oil field in Abole, Somali Region, killing approximately 65 Ethiopians and 9 Chinese nationals.[25] According to Inter Press Service, all persons killed by the ONLF were civilians.[26][27] The ONLF claimed it had "completely destroyed" the oilfield.[20] Most of the Ethiopians killed in the attack were daily laborers, guards and other support staff. Some members of the Ethiopian security officials were also killed during the surprise attack however those killed by the ONLF included 30 civilians, the ONLF attack was perpetuated as the ONLF has a policy of not allowing the Ethiopian government to extract resources as this will not be shared with the impoverished and suppressed population of the Ogaden, the Ogaden is largely a marginalized region as rebels have battled successive governments claiming discrimination and most recently crimes against humanity this was backed by a human rights watch report into alleged abuses.[28] It was the most deadly single attack by the ONLF.[29] On April 27, Ethiopian government spokesperson reported that ONLF rebels had detonated a "grenade," killing one person who was attending a funeral of family member killed during the prior attack.[30]

Shortly after the attack, the Ethiopian Army launched a military crackdown in Ogaden. The latest action of this crackdown resulted in the death of foreign relations chief Mohammed Sirad at the town of Danan as he met with other ONLF members.[31] Reportedly this has led to the ONLF splitting into two factions, with one group allied to current ONLF chairman Mohammed Omar Osman, and the other led by senior leader Abdiwali Hussein Gas, who appointed Salahudin Ma'ow as the new ONLF chairman and declared that he will "bring Mohammed Omar Osman to court".[32]

Somali deaths

In May 2007, a grenade attack by ONLF rebels in the Somali region of Ethiopia claimed the lives of at least 11 Somalis.[33] During a national holiday ceremony held at the Ogaden town of Jijiga, the grenade thrown at the podium of the stadium also wounded Somali regional president Abdulahi Hassan Mohammed in the leg. Bereket Simon, an adviser to Prime Minister Meles, blamed the ONLF as well as Eritrea since it arms the ONLF. However, the ONLF denied the accusations.[34] The bombing triggered a huge stampede in the stadium which led to the death of around six children.[35]

Somalia (Somaliland Region)

The ONLF has been accused of targeting Somalis in the unrecognized self-declared state of Somaliland. The Somaliland Security Force reported it had arrested a group of 34 people between 29 November and 1 December 2003 attempting to cross into Ethiopia, who they accused were the first group of between 700 and 1,200 ONLF recruits receiving training and graduating from Kalena and Addis Maskal training camps in Eritrea.[36] A website called the "Somaliland Press", accused the ONLF of ambushing a convoy traveling to Gashamo in the Degehabur Zone from Hargesa, killing two Somali civilians and seriously wounding several more. The ONLF released a statement denying this report, stating it "regards all Somalis as brothers and does not hold any grudges against any groups from Somalia despite many transgressions by some Somali warlords against the Somali people from Ogaden and their legitimate struggle for total emancipation."[37]

Discovery of oil

As of 2009, no oil has been found in the Ogaden. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has been quoted as estimating that Ethiopia has 428,000 barrels of crude oil reserves. However, experts believe the real prize is the estimated 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. This potential has drawn large companies such as Petronas from Malaysia and Lundin Petroleum, based in Sweden, to the inhospitable and nearly roadless Ogaden.[38] Various media sources have wrongly stated that there is oil in Ogaden but there has been no oil discovery in the Ogaden. Contrary to popular claims, the Ogaden region is a resource poor desert and has lacked development for centuries under nomadic tribes that the federal Ethiopian government receives virtually little income from the region. Due to the nomadic nature of the natives and due to the ONLF insurgency, the current Ethiopian government is said to spend very high amount of budget for the infrastructure development of the Ogaden region despite the government getting proportionally very low tax revenue from the locals.[39]

Other ONLF attacks

An ONLF grenade attack on a cultural gathering in Jijiga killed four middle school students on May 28, 2007. In a separate attack, fifty civilians were injured, including the regional president Abdullahi Hassan, and three artists were killed on May 28, 2007 by the ONLF.[28]

An ONLF attack on the town of the Debeweyin woreda in the Korahe Zone also left ten civilians dead, including two schoolteachers and a pregnant woman. A second attack on the town of Shilavo left five civilians dead, while an ONLF-planted landmine near Aware in the Degehabur Zone exploded, killing three civilians traveling by automobile. Aanother ONLF unit struck in the district of Lahelow near the Ethiopia-Somalia border, targeting members of the Isma'il Gum'adle sub-clan, twelve of whom were slain.[28] Regional security chief Abdi Mohammed Omar asserted that over a two months period, some 200 civilians had been killed by the ONLF.[40]

Ethiopia has been recently accused of human rights abuses. In response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says there is a double standard on terrorism since the ONLF group has killed many Ethiopians and Western nations have not condemned its killings.[41] Ethiopia has been described as a partner in the United States fight against terrorists, including al Qaeda.

In a communique, the ONLF claimed to have captured seven towns in the Somali Region on 10 November 2009 after two days of heavy fighting. The ONLF reported these towns as: Obolka, near Harar; Hamaro, east of Fiq; Higlaaley and Gunogabo near Degehabur; Yucub, 40 kilometers from Werder; Galadiid, 35 kilometers from Kebri Dahar; and Boodhaano near Gode.[42] Bereket Simon denied to Reuters that the ONLF had succeeded in capturing any towns, adding, "Their attacks last week were simply the desperate act of a dying force and about 245 of their fighters were killed."[43]

Notes and references

  1. ^ As of March 2009. "Ethiopia ONLF rebels 'seize town'". BBC.com (BBC News). 2009-03-09. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7932972.stm. Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  2. ^ As of January 2009, the Ethiopian government claims that "the ONLF currently has no armed force in the state while its political existence is facing a great danger." "Senior ONLF leader killed". Walta Information Center. 2009-01-21. http://www.waltainfo.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6366&Itemid=52. Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  3. ^ "Collective Punishment: War Crimes and crimes against Humanity in the Ogaden area of Ethiopia's Somali Regional State" (pdf), Human Rights Watch Report (2008), p. 27
  4. ^ ONLF and development issues
  5. ^ "Statement announcing the formation of the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy" (Press release). Alliance for Freedom and Democracy. 2006-05-22. http://www.ethioindex.com/pressreleases/AFDpressrelease.htm. Retrieved 2007-04-26. 
  6. ^ [1] Archived for subscribers only
  7. ^ "O.N.L.F Statement On Ethiopian Occupation Of Somalia" (Press release). Ogaden National Liberation Front. 2006-08-12. http://www.onlf.org/pressAug122006.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-08. 
  8. ^ a b c Blair, David (2007-10-09). "Ethiopia's 'secret war' forces thousands to flee". Telegraph.co.uk (London: Telegraph Media Group). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/10/09/wethiop109.xml. Retrieved 2007-10-30. "The rebels recruit most of their fighters from the Ogaden clan, who account for about half of the region's population. But the authorities are exploiting bitter clan rivalries and arming local militias to fight the ONLF." 
  9. ^ "Irish charity worker is kidnapped". BBC News (BBC). 2006-09-20. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/5365250.stm. Retrieved 2007-10-30. 
  10. ^ Tobias Hagman, "The Political Roots of the Current Crisis in Region 5", published 21 September 2007, Crisis in the Horn of Africa website (accessed 17 November 2009)
  11. ^ "The Perils of the EPRDF Politics Towards the Somali Region", an open letter dated 7 May 2005, signed by "Elders and Intellectuals of the Somali Regional State", published on the Wardheer News website (accessed 5 June 2009)
  12. ^ Mohamed Mohamud Abdi, A History of the Ogaden Struggle for Self-Determination. (United Kingdom: Lightning Source, 2007).
  13. ^ Somalis: You "ain't" seen nothing yet, Wardheer News website
  14. ^ Oromo claim of Ogaden
  15. ^ Current Official map of Oromia and Ogaden
  16. ^ Ogaden claim of Oromia
  17. ^ Thousands flee Ethiopia clashes (BBC News website)
  18. ^ "Ogaden rebels to resist Ethiopian army if it attacks Somali-statement". Sudan Tribune. 2006-11-28. http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article18952. Retrieved 2007-04-26. 
  19. ^ "Ogaden rebels destroy Ethiopian military convoy en route to Somalia". Sudan Tribune. 2006-12-24. http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article19437. Retrieved 2007-04-26. 
  20. ^ a b "ONLF Statement On Military Operatio Against Illegal Oil Facility In Ogaden" (Press release). Ogaden National Liberation Front. 2007-04-24. http://www.onlf.org/pressAug062006.htm. Retrieved 2007-04-26. 
  21. ^ "ONLF rebels attack Ethiopian soldiers in 3 towns". Garowe Online. 2007-01-15. Archived from the original on 2007-01-28. http://web.archive.org/web/20070128175416/http://www.garoweonline.com/stories/publish/article_7109.shtml. Retrieved 2007-04-26. 
  22. ^ "Fallout from war on terror hits Ethiopia; U.S. ally battles its own insurgents" Chicago Tribune, published 9 July 2007 (accessed 17 November 2009)
  23. ^ "Collective Punishment: 'Economic war': Confiscation of Livestock, the Trade Embargo, and Other Restrictions", Human Rights Watch report, 11 June 2008 (accessed 17 November 2009)
  24. ^ Newsweek, January 22, 2008
  25. ^ Gettleman, Jeffrey (2007-04-24). "Ethiopian Rebels Kill 70 at Chinese-Run Oil Field". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/24/world/africa/24cnd-ethiopia.html?hp. Retrieved 2007-04-24. 
  26. ^ ONLF attack 74 civilians in Ogaden
  27. ^ April 2007 attack killed at least 70 Chinese and Ethiopian civilians
  28. ^ a b c Dr. J. Peter Pham, "Regional dimensions of the human rights and Humanitarian situation in the 'Ogaden', Somalia, and beyond": Testimony before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, October 2, 2007 (accessed 5 June 2009)
  29. ^ ONLF massacre detailed
  30. ^ "Ethiopian rebels attack family mourning victim of earlier rebel assault,", Associated Press, April 27, 2007
  31. ^ "Senior ONLF leader Killed" (accessed 27 January 2009)
  32. ^ "Ethiopia: Ogaden's ONLF breaks into two factions", Jimma Times, 3 March 2009 (accessed 9 March 2009)
  33. ^ United States House of Representatives Detail report on some of the killings of civilians by ONLF
  34. ^ "Rebel throws grenade during ceremony, injuring Ethiopian regional leader", AP wirestory 28 May 2007
  35. ^ Six children killed in the rebel attack
  36. ^ "Eritrea Providing Military Training For Hundreds Of ONLF Fighters", Somaliland Times, issue 98 (accessed 16 November 2009)
  37. ^ "Ethiopia Ogaden rebels blast report on killing civilians", Sudan Times, 29 June 2009 (accessed 16 November 2009)
  38. ^ Paul Salopek, "Deadly battle for quixotic prize Vague promise of finding oil drives violence in Ethiopia", 5 August 2007
  39. ^ Addis Ababa government uses significantly more money into Ogaden for roads and other services than it receives in taxes
  40. ^ "Silence essential in Ogaden", News 24 website, 29 January 2008 (accessed 5 June 2009)
  41. ^ ONLF and "Terrorism double standards", statement by the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  42. ^ "Ogaden rebels claim capture of seven towns" Sudan Times 15 November 2009 (accessed 16 November 2009)
  43. ^ "Ethiopia denies rebels have captured seven towns", Reuters website, published 16 November 2009 (accessed 17 November 2009)

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