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Westerners arrested in Ethiopia

Friday, January 18, 2008

Gode, Ethiopia  (Reuters) - Ethiopia has arrested a number of American and European citizens of Ethiopian descent, accusing them of aiding separatist rebels, a senior Ethiopian official said on Friday.

"I can assure you they are many," Abdullahi Hassan, president of the country's troubled Ogaden region, said visiting the area at the government's invitation.

He declined to say how many people had been detained or when they had been arrested.

"Those who are waging the terrorist war against our people are coming from Europe, are coming from America. They hold American passports, they hold European passports," he said.

Hassan said the detainees were originally from Ogaden but moved to the US and Europe where they raised money for the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

"They are buying with this money weapons, mines and explosives," he said, adding that he would not contact their embassies because they were suspected terrorists.

"We don't care whether they see (their diplomatic representatives) or not," he said, comparing the situation to the US base in Guantanamo Bay, where nearly 300 inmates are being held without charge or access to consuls.

"In America ... al-Qaeda members are in Guantanamo ... We are faced with the same problem," he said.

A spokesperson for the US embassy said they had received no official notification from the government. "We are following up with Ethiopian authorities as we speak," he said.

Hassan said the detainees were being held in the eastern town of Jijiga. He said they would face trial, but did not say when, or on what charges.

The barren, ethnically Somali region made headlines in April when ONLF guerrillas attacked a Chinese-run oil exploration field and killed 74 people. Both the government and rebels accuse each other of committing human rights abuses.

The ONLF are fighting for autonomy for their remote region, which borders Somalia. The United Nations says nearly a million people there are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Source: Reuters, Jan 18, 2008


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