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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Ethiopia Investigating Whether Troops Shot Dead 30 Civilians

EiTB24 -- Ethiopia said on Thursday it was investigating a report by separatist rebels that government troops shot dead at least 30 people and injured hundreds during unrest earlier this week.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a group of ethnic Somalis fighting for independence for their eastern region, said Ethiopian soldiers opened fire on Tuesday against prisoners demanding better treatment in Qabri-daharre town.

"Then the Ethiopian army came to the centre of the town and started shooting indiscriminately at the civilian people," it added in a statement. "More than 30 people are reported dead from the civilians and the prisoners. ... Hundreds are reported wounded."

Ethiopian Information Minister Berhan Hailu said the government was unsure what had happened. "The incident is under investigation," he said, without elaborating. Ethiopia has long blamed the ONLF for attacking government troops in the area and human rights groups say the army has retaliated by intimidating the local population.

Cry of the wounded for help

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's rights record has already come under severe scrutiny this year after post-election protests that killed nearly 80 people -- most in the capital Addis Ababa -- in two bouts of unrest in June and earlier in November.

Regional authorities in Ogaden contacted by Reuters could not give information, saying the incident was in a remote area and details were hazy.

The ONLF statement did not say which prisoners were involved or explain why the army would have fired on civilians. It said locals were herded into a football ground and held until night, before being allowed out under a curfew.

"People could hear the cry of the wounded for help but were unable to go out as any body found outside was shot. The number of dead people may rise," it added.

Condemn "this heinous act"

On Wednesday, soldiers collected the dead and ordered the townsfolk to dig graves, the ONLF said.

"When the graves were dug they ordered the people to leave the area, but the people refused and one person was shot dead on the spot and others were wounded," it added.

The ONLF called on the international community to condemn "this heinous act" and send investigators.

The people of the eastern Ogaden region complain of neglect by the central government of the Horn of Africa nation of 70 million, dominated by ex-rebels from the northern province of Tigray who overthrew dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in May 1991.

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