The Ethiopian government released 402 members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front from prison and denied rebel claims the army is attacking residents of the disputed area.
The insurgents were released Jan. 12 as part of a peace deal signed in Addis Ababa, the capital, in October, Shimeles Kemal, state minister for communications, said by phone today.
The ONLF group has been fighting for self-determination for the people of the Ogaden, a region that border with Somalia, for 16 years. It alleged that the Ethiopian army displayed two bodies in Kebridehar on Jan. 17 with wires used to strangle them, according to a statement e-mailed by the group yesterday. A woman was decapitated by soldiers in Higlalay in an attack that wounded 27 people, it said.
The claims are an “absolute lie,” Shimeles said. “The usual ONLF propaganda.”
An incident in Kebridehar did take place on Jan. 10 when an Eritrea-trained rebel killed a civilian in front of his children, he said. That person was later arrested. The same day a failed ONLF ambush aimed at releasing the suspect left four rebels dead and a policeman injured, Shimeles said.
There was “no information” whether Bashir Makhtal, a Canadian citizen whose grandfather co-founded the ONLF, was released from prison, Shimeles said. He was arrested four years ago and is serving a life sentence for rebel activity.