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Cablegate: Insurgents Stop/Detain Ngo Staff in Ogaden

VZCZCXRO1684
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHDS #2663/01 2691531
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 251531Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2168
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEPADJ/CJTF HOA PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEWMFD/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ADDIS ABABA 002663

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC PHUM EAID PGOV ET
SUBJECT: INSURGENTS STOP/DETAIN NGO STAFF IN OGADEN

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) Two NGO teams have been detained in rural encounters with
insurgent/extremist groups in the Ogaden areas of Ethiopia's Somali
region in the past week. As NGOs report increased access in the
Ogaden, the incidence of such encounters is also likely to continue,
and grow. Roadblocks by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF)
insurgents have generally not harmed, robbed, or kidnapped
humanitarian workers. Encounters with extremist groups -- such as
the United Western Somali Liberation Front (UWSLF), Al-Itihaad
al-Islami (AIAI), or al-Shabaab -- result in more varied, and
threatening, experiences. Fundamentally, the remote, ungoverned
areas of the Somali region continue to present a significant
potential security threat and military (ENDF) escorts often remain
necessary. Post will continue to balance carefully policy gains
against risks in considering travel for mission personnel in the
region. End Summary.

AIAI DELAYS IRC TEAM
--------------------

2. (SBU) On September 16, a team from the International Rescue
Committee (IRC) was stopped at a roadblock manned by armed
individuals claiming to represent al-Itihaad. The team of one
Nepali and three Ethiopians was detained en route from Kebri Dehar
to Degehabur after briefing the Ambassador and visiting USAID
Assistant Administrator Mike Hess. After being questioned about
their identity, activities, and purpose of travel for approximately
two to three hours, the gunmen relieved the IRC team of about 8,000
birr and their Thuraya satellite telephone before allowing them to
proceed. The gunmen threatened to kill the group and waved guns in
their faces. The group continued on the road but was stopped by a
second unidentified, but non-hostile group for several minutes.
Having reported at the Ethiopian military check-point outside of
Kebri Dehar upon commencing their travel, the team's delayed,
after-dark arrival in Gunagado -- the last town before Degehabur --
got the ENDF's attention. As a result, the ENDF impounded the IRC
team's vehicles, subjecting the staff members to de facto "town
arrest" in Gunagado until senior instructions from ENDF commanders
in Jijiga and Harar were received. As per standard operating
procedures respected by the NGOs, they did not report their
encounter with AIAI to ENDF or local officials. (Comment: Given the
seriousness of this particular incident it is unclear to us why IRC
did not tell the ENDF. This was not a chance encounter with the ONLF
who have been consistently friendly to NGOs. End Comment.)

3. (SBU) On September 19 the ENDF escorted the IRC staff to the
Somali regional capital Jijiga where they held a joint meeting with
regional officials. According to IRC officials, the Somali regional
government officials pressed for the IRC team's release, but the
ENDF rejected such a move. While there was discussion to release
the Nepali expatriate, IRC reported that the ENDF remained "angry"
with the IRC Ethiopian staff members for being "unaccounted for" in
the bush. On September 22, the ENDF handed the IRC team over to
federal police custody, and they were eventually released shortly
after noon.

4. (SBU) Despite a UNDSS security report speculating that the IRC
team may have been detained by the UWSLF, callers claiming to
represent UWSLF called IRC representatives in Jijiga on September 25
denying that it was not UWSLF that had detained the team.


MEDECINS DU MONDE STAFF KIDNAPPED
---------------------------------

5. (SBU) On September 23, two expatriate staff members of French NGO
Medecins Du Monde (MDM) were kidnapped near Shilabo, south of Kebri
Dehar. While their Ethiopian driver was released, Hareri Hassan
Barre, Commissioner for Somalia's Balanbale district reported to the
press that the expat staff members had been taken into Somalia. A
French embassy source noted that the two were believed to be one
Japanese and one Finnish national. As the hostage takers are now
demanding a ransom for the foreigners' release, Post believes that
the kidnapping may be the work of al Shabaab or individuals
affiliated or inspired by them. The ONLF distributed a press
release on September 23 condemning the abduction and its potential
to disrupt the international community's efforts to alleviate
humanitarian conditions in the region.

COMMENT
-------

6. (SBU) As NGO access expands throughout the Ogaden, encounters

ADDIS ABAB 00002663 002 OF 002


with armed gunmen opposed to the Ethiopian Government are likely to
increase. While NGO encounters with the ONLF over the past couple
of years have consistently consisted of questioning followed by
unhindered release (and the ONLF has unilaterally initiated
ceasefires where they have known humanitarian teams were being
deployed and called for humanitarian corridors), encounters with
other groups have taken various forms. Until now expatriates have,
at most, been robbed. The MDM staff kidnapping, however, marks a
notable change in tactics, of which we are not yet able to attribute
to a specific group. While the sustained Ethiopian security and
military presence in major towns has exempted these quasi-urban
areas from armed insurgent activity affecting humanitarian groups,
the rural majority of the Ogaden region remains largely ungoverned.


7. (SBU) Persistent government suspicion of NGOs collaborating with
"anti-peace elements" will likely sustain IRC-like secondary
detentions of NGOs by the ENDF after initial encounters with
anti-government groups. Post will continue to press the Ethiopian
Government to understand that such encounters do not indicate
collaboration, and to facilitate humanitarian access to vulnerable
populations within the prevailing security climate in the Ogaden.
Post will also actively track location and trends in such encounters
to ensure that USG personnel can continue to access the region to
achieve policy objectives without exposing staff to unnecessary
risk. End Comment.

YAMAMOTO

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