Ethiopian troops killed dozens after blast-rebels

By Andrew Heavens

ADDIS ABABA, May 30 (Reuters) - Ethiopian rebels accused government forces on Wednesday of firing on crowds, resulting in dozens of deaths, after two explosions in a remote eastern area.

The separatist Ogaden National Liberation Force (ONLF) said women and children were among those shot or trampled to death on Monday in the volatile ethnically Somali Ogaden region.

The ONLF, who last month raided a Chinese-run oil exploration field in the area killing 74 people, denies government claims it was behind at least one of the blasts that state media say killed 11 people and wounded a regional leader.

"The ONLF is accountable for this attack. Everything that happened was because of the grenades," an Information Ministry spokesman said.

The state-run Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) said five people were killed after a hand grenade was thrown into crowds celebrating a national holiday in the eastern region's capital Jijiga. Five suspects had been arrested.

Witnesses said regional leader Abdullahi Hassan suffered a leg wound and was thrown through the air by the blast. Abdullahi was in good condition, ENA said after the attack.

"It is neither the policy nor the practice of the ONLF to deliberately target civilians for any reason," the group said in a statement.

"Dozens of people were killed in both cities in northern Ogaden when TPLF (government) troops shot indiscriminately into crowds of civilians forced to attend a TPLF-sponsored political rally."

The Tigrayan People's Liberation Front is at the heart of Ethiopia's ruling coalition and was Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's original party when he was a rebel leader before overthrowing Ethiopia's Derg regime in 1991.

The ONLF statement also said government troops had started a "violent crackdown" on residents in response to the attacks in Jijiga and Degah Bur towns.

The explosions ratcheted up already heightened tensions in Ethiopia's Somali region, a vast, underdeveloped area where the ONLF has been pushing for more autonomy since 1984.

ONLF fighters attacked the Chinese-run oilfield 120 km (75 miles) south of Jijiga in April, killing 65 Ethiopians and nine Chinese workers.

Ethiopia has long said the ONLF receives arms and support from the country's archrival Eritrea, which denies this.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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