STATE TERROR AGAINST INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN ETHIOPIA--ANOTHER SECRET WAR FOR OIL?
by keith harmon snow
The East African nation of Ethiopia is the latest US Terror War ally to
turn its guns on indigenous peoples in a zone coveted by corporate
interests for its natural resources. Four months after armed forces of the
ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Defense Front (EPRDF) and settlers
from the Ethiopian highlands initiated a campaign of massacres, repression
and mass rape deliberately targeting the Anuak minority of Ethiopia's
southwest, atrocities and killings continue--and the situation remains in
whiteout by the Western media.
The most recent attack was on March 27, when EPRDF troops entered villages
in Jor district, killing over 100 residents, including women and children.
Many of the survivors were forcibly removed by the soldiers, with rights
observers claiming village women are being held as sexual slaves.
Based on field investigations conducted in January, two US-based
organizations--Genocide Watch and Survivor's Rights International--jointly
released a report on Feb. 22, providing substantial evidence that EPRDF
soldiers and "Highlander" militias in southwestern Ethiopia targeted Anuak
civilians. The "Highlanders" are of neither the agriculturalist Anuak nor
the cattle-herding Nuer, the two indigenous peoples of the region, but
predominantly Tigray and Amhara people resettled into Anuak territory since
The current conflict was sparked by the killing of eight U.N. and Ethiopian
government officials whose van was ambushed on Dec. 13, 2003, in the
Gambella district of southwestern Ethiopia. While there is no evidence
attesting to the ethnicity of the unidentified assailants, the incident
provided the pretext for the ongoing pogrom against the Anuak.
In the aftermath of the attack, EPRDF soldiers using automatic weapons and
hand grenades targeted Anuak villages, summarily executing civilians,
burning dwellings (sometimes with people inside), and looting property.
Some 424 Anuak people were reportedly killed, with over 200 more wounded
and some 85 unaccounted for.
Mass rape continues in the region, perpetrated by EPRDF soldiers and
Highlander settlers, often at gunpoint. Anuak schools were reportedly
emptied of schoolgirls who were gang-raped in nearby huts or in the bush.
With Anuak males killed, arrested or displaced, the vulnerability of women
and girls has been grossly exploited. Reports from non-Anuak police
officials in Gambella indicate an average of up to seven rapes per day.
Some resistance has been reported--both by guerillas of the Anuak Gambella
People's Liberation Force (GPLF), and, more spontaneously, by targetted
Anuak civilians. According to one interview, Anuak men who resisted
attacks by soldiers in Pinyudo town on Dec. 13 or 14 were able to overcome
their attackers and capture automatic weapons.
Recent reports indicate that pitched battles occurred in Dimma district
when Anuak men retaliated for the unprovoked torture-killing of a member of
the Anuak community by EPRDF soldiers. Retaliatory attacks and
counter-attacks from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3 reportedly claimed the lives of
scores of EPRDF soldiers in Dimma. After Jan. 30, EPRDF reinforcements
arrived in Dimma with troops, artillery and tanks. Troops reportedly
massacred non-combatant Dinka and Nuer refugees from a nearby camp for
First-person reports from the Gambella region describe Anuak prisoners
subjected to forced labor under armed guard by EPRDF captors. Significant
numbers of Anuaks remain unaccounted for; "disappearances" of Anuak leaders
have become frequent. There are unverified reports that Ethiopia's central
government has dispatched intelligence operatives to neighboring countries
to assassinate exiled Anuak leaders. Reports of helicopters being used to
monitor or hunt down Anuak refugees have also been received.
Reports compiled by Genocide Watch/Survivors Rights International (GW/SRI)
cited eyewitness accounts of eleven uniformed EPRDF soldiers working under
cover of night on Feb. 1 to exhume bodies from a mass grave in Gambella.
EPRDF soldiers reportedly worked with masks and gloves to dig up corpses
for incineration in order to destroy evidence of the December massacres.
Now refugees are fleeing from Ethiopia into Sudan. As of January 23, 2004,
the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Committee, affiliated with the rebel
Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), in Pochalla, Sudan, was
supporting international relief efforts for over 5,297 refugees fleeing the
violence. Refugees continue to flee southwestern Ethiopia at this writing.
Numerous assailants have been identified, including government officials,
soldiers and civilians. There are accusations that lists of targeted
individuals were drawn up with the assistance of Omot Obang Olom, an Anuak
government official cited by several interviewees for his involvement.
Massacres were reportedly ordered by the commander of the Ethiopian army in
Gambella, Nagu Beyene, with the authorization of Gebrehab Barnabas,
Regional Affairs minister of the Ethiopian government.
Numerous sources report that there have been regular massacres of Anuak
since 1980. Cultural Survival has reported on discrimination against the
Anuaks in six reports published in the journal Cultural Survival Quarterly
beginning in 1981. (See e.g.: "Oil Development In Ethiopia: A Threat to
the Anuak of Gambella," Issue 25.3, 2001).
Interviews with local residents consistently reveal that Anuak have been
treated as third-class citizens, denied basic educational opportunities
afforded to other ethnicities, and have been increasingly excluded and
displaced from positions in government and civil society over the past
decade. As one witness testified: "There is an unwritten law of
discrimination against Anuaks."
The U.S. government was informed about unfolding violence in the Gambella
region as early as December 16, 2003, through communications to Secretary
of State Colin Powell, the Overseas Citizens Division, the U.S. Embassy in
Ethiopia, and other U.S. State Department agencies.
Responding to the GW/SRI report, the U.S. issued a press release on Feb. 22
that urged an end to violence between ethnic Anuaks and the military in the
Gambella region. The U.S. also called "upon the Government of Ethiopia to
conduct transparent, independent inquiries, and particularly into
allegations that members of the Ethiopian military committed acts of
violence against civilians in Gambella region."
On March 1, 2004, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi issued a statement
denying EPRDF involvement in the violence, claiming: "the Ethiopian Defense
Forces acted only to maintain peace and stability, in light of the weakened
condition of the regional police forces during the incidents."
Ethiopia is considered an essential partner of the U.S. in its War on
Terrorism. In 2003, the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division (Special
Operations Forces) completed a three-month program to train an Ethiopian
army division in counter-terrorism tactics. Operations are coordinated
through the Combined Joint Task Forces-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) base in
In January 2004, Special Operations soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry
Regiment replaced the 10th Mountain Division forces at a new base
established Hurso Training Camp, northwest of Dire Dawa near the border
with Somalia., to be used for launching local joint missions in
"counter-terrorism" with the Ethiopian military. Soldiers will continue to
operate missions out of Hurso for several months from a new forward base
named "Camp United."
>From April 12-25, 2003, under the U.S. State Department-sponsored Africa
Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program, CJTF-HOA provided
instruction to nearly 900 Ethiopian soldiers at a base in Legedadi.
CJTF-HOA forces from the U.S Army's 478th Civil Affairs Battalion also
operated in Ethiopia in 2003 in and around Dire Dawa, Galadi and Dolo Odo,
among other areas.
The 1,800-member CJTF, comprised of personnel from all branches of the U.S.
armed forces, civilian representatives and coalition liaison officers, was
formed to oversee operations in the Horn of Africa for U.S. Central Command
in support of the global War on Terrorism. For its "counter-terrorism"
mission, CJTF-HOA defines the Horn of Africa region as the airspace, land
areas and coastal waters of Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, Eritrea,
Djibouti and Yemen.
The Central Intelligence Agency is also very active on the entire Horn of
Africa and operates two Predator unmanned aerospace vehicles (UAVs) armed
with Hellfire missiles out of Djibouti.
>From 1995-2000, the U.S. provided some $1,835,000 in International Military
and Education Training (IMET) deliveries to Ethiopia. Some 115 Ethiopian
military officers were trained under the IMET program from 1991-2001.
Approximately 4,000 Ethiopian soldiers have participated in IMET since
The role of oil in the conflict in neighboring southern Sudan has been
well-reported. Multinational corporations now have set their sights on the
natural resources of Ethiopia's Gambella region as well. Central Ethiopian
authorities thus have powerful economic incentives to seek control of these
resources. Petroleum, water, tungsten, platinum and gold are the principal
resources in the Gambella region that are of international interest.
The Anuak situation has grown markedly worse since oil was discovered under
Anuak lands by the Gambella Petroleum Corp, a subsidiary of Pinewood
Resources Ltd. of Canada, which signed a concession agreement with the
Ethiopian government in 2001. In May 2001, however, Pinewood announced that
it had relinquished all rights to the Gambella oil concession. Pinewood now
says it has pulled out of Ethiopia. The concessions may have been sold.
On June 13, 2003, Malaysia's state-owned oil company Petronas announced the
signing of an exclusive 25-year exploration and production sharing
agreement with the EPRDF government to exploit the Ogaden Basin in
Ethiopia's east and the "Gambella Block"--a 15,356 sq km concession. On
Feb. 17, 2004, the Ethiopian Minister of Mines announced that the Malaysian
company would launch a natural gas exploration project in the Gambella
region. There are reports that the China National Petroleum Corporation may
have also signed contracts with the EPRDF for a stake in Gambella's oil.
Petronas and the China National Petroleum Corporation are currently
operating in Sudan, where, according to a 2003 report by Human Rights
Watch, "Sudan: Oil and Human Rights," the two Asian oil giants have
allegedly provided cover for their respective governments to ship arms and
military equipment to Sudan in exchange for oil concessions granted by
In 2000, the Texas-based Sicor Inc. signed a $1.4 billion dollar deal with
Ethiopia for the "Gazoil" joint venture exploiting oil and gas in the
southeast Ogaden Basin.
Hunt Oil Company of Dallas is also involved in the Ogaden Basin through
their subsidiary Ethiopia Hunt Oil Company. Hunt Oil's chairman of the
board and CEO Ray L. Hunt is a director of Halliburton Company.
U.S. Cal Tech International Corp is also reportedly negotiating a joint
venture with the China National Petroleum Corp. to operate in the same
Petronas operates in Sudan in partnership with the Canadian-Swedish Lundin
Group. Swedish financier Adolph Lundin, who oversees Lundin Group is a
long-time associate of George H.W. Bush. African Confidential reported in
1997 that the former president telephoned then-dictator Mobutu Sese Seko of
Zaire (today Democratic Republic of Congo) on behalf of Lundin after Mobutu
had threatened to terminate a mining contract.
Anuak artesanal miners in Gambella district mine gold; thus the interests
of multinational gold corporations may be of further relevance in
explaining the terror campaign against the Anuaks. U.S.-based Canyon
Resources has gold operatio