December 16, 2007

Civilians fighting in Ethiopia

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- The Ethiopian government allegedly is forcing untrained civilians, including relief workers, to fight rebels in the Ogaden region.

According to Western officials and those who recently defected to avoid being conscripted, doctors, teachers and employees of development programs financed by the World Bank and United Nations are being used to fight insurgents, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Government officials in the region have called upon elders, traders, women and civil servants to establish local "security committees" to destroy the rebels and their bases.

The Ethiopian government, which has accused rebels of assassinations and bombings, says that civilian militias have volunteered to fight, the newspaper reported.

"Anybody who works for the government -- teachers, doctors, clerks, administrators -- has to join a militia," said Hassan Abdi Hees, who worked as the head accountant in a government office in the Ogaden and is now seeking asylum in Kenya. "I left because I didn't want to die."

John Holmes, a senior humanitarian official at the United Nations, came to the Ogaden in November.

During his visit, he heard reports of civilian militias being formed and said he found it increasingly difficult to find trained professionals to distribute much-needed aid in the region.

"There is not a catastrophe there, for the moment," he said. "But there is a lot of concern the Ogaden could become a serious humanitarian crisis."

United Press International

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