September 04, 2007

Crisis looming in Ethiopia's Ogaden region: medical relief agency

NAIROBI (AFP) — Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Tuesday a major humanitarian crisis could be developing in Ethiopia's rebel Ogaden region, where the organisation was repeatedly denied access in recent weeks.

"I think we are missing a big thing that is happening under our eyes," said Loris de Filippi, operational coordinator for MSF Belgium in Ethiopia.

Government forces have launched a military crackdown against rebel groups in the Ogaden, a vast territory in southeastern Ethiopia.

De Filippi said some areas of the Somali-ethnic region -- which has long complained of marginalisation by Addis Ababa -- have been without any medical supplies for six months.

He explained that the worst-affected areas consisted of three pockets in the Fik, Degeh Bur and Werder regions, totalling a population of around 400,000 who have no drugs and only one doctor.

MSF complained that its teams had been repeatedly denied access to critical regions by the Ethiopian army and regional authorities.

"We had had access to the region for years and years and now we don't," added de Filippi, who described burned villages and large scale civilian displacement.

The International Committee of the Red Cross was recently expelled from the flashpoint region and MSF said only local Ethiopian staff from a handful of aid organisations remained.

Ethiopian government troops launched their military crackdown in the area following an attack by Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebels against a Chinese oil venture in which 77 people were killed.

A United Nations fact finding mission is currently in the Ogaden region but it is unclear whether or not they were allowed to enter some of the areas described by MSF as the worst-hit.


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