August 26, 2010

Ogaden: Government-Funded Militias Terrorize Ogaden Region

The government-backed Liyu Police militia has committed numerous abuses against civilians in Ethiopia's Ogaden region.

 

Below is an article written by a volunteer with African Rights Monitor:

 

Since 1994, when formal fighting between the Ethiopian government and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) erupted in Ogaden, the Ethiopian military has received assistance from local militias. Prior to the establishment of the Liyu police in 2008 there was a Peace and Security Coordination cabinet office in each district’s administration which was authorized to organize clan militias on behalf of the government. Members of one of the most prominent militias, established in 2001, were trained and based in Godey town, and later disbursed to the main districts of the region such as Kabridahar, Degahbur, Wardher, Fiiq, and others. After they failed to receive their promised salaries, they ceased to function fully and were later dismantled deliberately by the government, which suspected members of providing support to rebels.

However, the Ethiopian government established new forces, paid directly by the government and equipped as the military. This group, called the Liyu police, was granted similar powers to those possessed by the military in the region. In mid-2008, the government collected unemployed young men, former militia members and normal police (region’s police), and sent them to a training camp in Jinacsane, 20km north-western of Jigjiga. The first 800 Liyu police militia men celebrated their graduation ceremony in Garab’ase military barack of Jigjiga in the presence of the region’s President, Da’ud Mohamed, and its Peace & Security Head, Abdi mohamud (aka Abdi Ilay), in early January 2009. 

The Liyu police are financed directly from the regional budget under the leadership of Abdi Mohamud Omar (Abdi Ilay), head of Peace, Justice and Security Coordination. Their military equipment is reportedly supplied by the Somali Region Administration of the Ethiopian Ministry of Defense. Nearly 20 four wheel Drive (4WD) pickups of Toyota, and dozen of 26-30 ton Isuzu were purchased for the Liyu police, though they frequently use both civilian and government-owned vehicles. They are mostly equipped AK-47, PKM and other military-grade weapons, and dress in green Ethiopian Federal Police uniforms. 

Many Ogaden report that the Ethiopian military is more polite and humane than the Liyu police. This is not to be interpreted as evidence of the kindness of the Ethiopian military, but rather the comparative seriousness of Liyu abuses against the Ogaden. The Liyu police are responsible for crimes ranging from harassment, arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings. Both during and after training, it was emphasized to the Liyu police that they were the most powerful organ in the region. This idea has led them to overuse their power against vulnerable people who are not equipped to fight back, including civilians from both the urban and nomad communities. 

In January 2009, the Liyu police were settled in a number of villages of Qorahay, Fik, Wardher, Godey and Degahbur zones, including Framadow, Gaba-gabo, Marsin, Yo’ale(Garbo) and Qolod, among others, where they began fighting alongside the Ethiopian military. 

In February 2009, Dayib Yaase was killed in Muugo, 20 km north of Kabridahar, after he tried to defend his daughter. In a nearby village, Fardhiig, three men were reportedly killed by the same team of Liyu police. When the people in the town of Kabridahar learned of the killings and came to perform the funeral process, they encountered the same team of Liyu police along the way. When questioned about their activities by the police, they responded that they were on their way to perform the funeral duties for the people the police had killed. The Liyu police, however, denied responsibility for the killings, arguing “look now how we kill the people, we did not kill the ones you are blaming to us.” They then proceeded to kill on the spot a man who was a relative of one of those killed earlier in the day. 

In March of 2009, fighting broke out between the Liyu police militia and the ONLF in Qolod, a village between Birqod and Garbo. Following this, the Liyu police came back to Birqod and collected some men from the village market and took to the camp. On their way to the camp, they began to shoot the men; three died on the spot, and many others were wounded. 

In September 2009, the Liyu police shot to death Axmed Xuseen (Fowjad Saangor) in a public arena, following accusations of his involvement in an April 2009 skirmish in which a Liyu commander was killed. Nearly ten days after Axmed’s death, Liyu police shot to death Sahra Xassan Nuur, a mother of eleven, following allegations of her participation in the fighting. 

In May 2009, Mahad Mohamed Dariiq, a graduate student from Godey agricultural college, was shot to death in Kabridahar by the Liyu police.

Arbitrary detention is a common experience for the Ogaden people. People are in Liyu police custody as long as the Liyu police wish; locals report that no court in the region would formally order a prisoner’s release from their custody. 

Deq Dahir, a student in Jigjiga high school, was arrested in Qabridahar August 5, 2009 by the Liyu police head Deeq Jirri, and his associate, Mukhtar. Mr. Dahir remained in Liyu police custody for several days, and was later released after being threatened with torture and execution while in custody.

The Ethiopian government and its military have long held the belief that the civilian population in Ogaden acts as a safe haven for rebels. This has led them to a strategy of collective punishment against the Ogaden as a means of dismantling rebel groups.