Ethiopia’s rebels ‘gang rape women in villages’

Image copyright Amnesty International Image caption Amnesty International claimed Tigrayan rebel fighters had raped villagers in Oromia and Somali regions

Ethiopian rebels have gang raped women in remote villages, Amnesty International said.

The organisation said locals in Oromia and Somali regions had complained of the practice by rebels from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

Other reports suggest ONLF fighters have also raped women, but do not refer to them as “gang rapes”.

Expectations that the claims would become public quickly triggered debate in Oromia about the exploitation of women.

A report on the alleged abuse in May, by the Oromia Institute think tank, claimed that “TYL is either directly or indirectly responsible for the killing of at least 16 civilians and injuring of over 300”.

Human Rights Watch has said it had also received reports of the abuse, and filed a formal report on the matter in May.

Amnesty International said the “overwhelming majority” of women who reported abuse had been from Oromia, but added “there are indications” that crimes had also been committed in the Somali regions.

“Up to 20 women have reported the gang rape,” one villager who does not wish to be named told the organisation.

An ONLF official contacted by the BBC confirmed the allegations, but said the report came from people who had been in his group’s camps since 1991.

“[Ogaden] women should not come under suspicion and should be spared from violence,” said Mohammed Abdala.

He told Amnesty the ONLF had been a victim of “anarchy and cross-border criminal elements” trying to spread “cheap propaganda”.

One young woman said that she had walked more than two hours in a “distant” village to get to her local health post to report that she had been gang raped, Amnesty said.

There are fears that Ethiopia has reached the limits of what it can tolerate from the ONLF.

The rebels have been waging war in the Ogaden since 1984, when a Kenyan peace initiative ended a previous peace process.

The BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reported earlier this month that military and political leaders felt the ONLF were “slipping into electoral mischief”.

“Behind the ONLF’s campaign is a sense that they may have reached the limit of what is possible by conventional means,” he said.

Ethiopia’s government has previously insisted that the conflict in Oromia is over land use issues, but has made no comment on Amnesty’s allegations.

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