- Ethiopia's Ogaden rebels have today demanded that United Nations security council secure aid corridor to their homeland, where they claimed emergency food is not getting out fast enough to starving in troubled Somali region.
Since June last year, Ethiopian military has been waging an offensive against separatist guerrillas that have cut off access for most aid workers and journalists to ethnically Somali region.
"Situation is getting out of hand. Women and children and elderly are dying from thirst and hunger," Abdirahman Mahdi, founding member of Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) told media.
"UN security council must set up and enforce an aid corridor immediately, with international monitors, because army is using relief supplies to fuel its campaign," Mr Mahdi said.
Ethiopia's government, an important United States ally in region, routinely rejects ONLF claims that its forces withhold aid from desperate communities in drought-stricken east.
Mr Mahdi said international officials who had visited Ogaden recently, including UN aid chief John Holmes, had underestimated crisis.
"People are eating roots and grass, animals are dying. At same time, military campaign is going on. Soldiers are shooting people, beating and harassing them," he was quoted as saying.
Mr Holmes said earlier this month that special attention should be paid to region and food deliveries should be sped up.
In June, US based human rights watch said donors who gave government more than US$2 billion a year in aid needed to speak out against what group called widespread and systematic atrocities by Ethiopian troops.
HRW has reportedly accused western nations, including US and Britain, of maintaining a conspiracy of silence.
For its part, Addis Ababa reportedly said report was fabricated.
In July, regional government officials in Ogaden accused a Swiss medical charity of spreading hearsay after it stopped work there complaining of repeated obstructions, intimidation and arrests.
Michael Hess, of US Agency for International Development (USAID), says only 41% of food allocated for July has reached its intended recipients.
Mr Hess says such distribution is not good enough.
ONLF was formed in 1984 in ethnical Somali region on Ethiopia's border with Somalia. Its aims have varied between full-scale independence to joining a "Greater Somalia" to more autonomy within Ethiopia for a region it says is neglected.
Addis Ababa reportedly says rebels are terrorists supported by Horn of Africa rival Eritrea, and points to an ONLF attack on a Chinese-run oil field in April 2007 that killed 74 people.
It further says criticism of its tactics in the rocky, arid region is just defamation by "anti-peace" forces.
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