State Terror Against Anuak People Invisible to Outside World--as US
Military Involvement, Oil Operations Escalate
by keith harmon snow
GAMBELLA, ETHIOPIA -
Talk privately to any Anuak people in the Ethiopian state of Gambella and
it won't be long before they speak about "the problem." Others are
terrified into silence. To Anuak and other indigenous minorities of
southwestern Ethiopia, the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is a
ruthless military dictatorship. And almost everyone links "the problem" to
"Since the problem, we are
not able to farm or to fish," said one Anuak
survivor who was shot three times. He is shy, but he will show you where
one bullet entered and exited his wrist. He was shot December 13, 2003--the
day the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Defense Forces (EPRDF) and local
"highlander" militias launched their genocidal war on the Anuaks.
"Highlanders" are Ethiopians who are neither Anuak nor Nuer--the indigenous
peoples of the region--but predominantly Tigray and Amhara people resettled
into Anuak territory from their lands in the central highlands since 1974.
Ten months after the massacres
of December, 2003, the EPRDF government of
Ethiopia continues to downplay the violence in southwestern Ethiopia. At
the same time, the government has been rewarded with new loans, debt
restructuring and debt forgiveness by the international development
community. The EPRDF continues to benefit from its tight military
relationship with the United States.
The region is home to guerillas
of the Gambella People's Liberation Front
(GPLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and other forces hostile to the
Meles Zenawi regime. However, the EPRDF government has used the pretext of
"terrorism" and "national security" to punish rural populations, and it
continues to wage low-intensity warfare against innocent civilians.
Today, Gambella state is under
total military occupation. Estimates place
between 30,000 and 80,000 EPRDF troops deployed here, carrying out
scorched-earth campaigns under the cover of "counter-terrorism." One recent
attack occurred in early September, when EPRDF soldiers reportedly pillaged
the rural village of Powatalam. Some 43 people were killed, and the village
At least 1,500 and perhaps as
many as 2,500 Anuak civilians have died in
the fighting--most of these being intellectuals, leaders, and members of
the educated and student classes, who have been intentionally targeted.
Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for and many are believed to have
Numerous rural villages where
Anuaks and other ethnic minorities generally
hover in the margins of existence at the best of times have been similarly
attacked, looted, and torched. Thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of
Anuak homes have reportedly been burned.
Anuak women and girls are
routinely raped, gang-raped and kept as sexual
slaves by EPRDF forces. Girls have been shot for resisting rape, and
summary executions of girls held captive for prolonged periods as sexual
slaves have been reported. In the absence of Anuak men--killed, jailed or
driven into exile--Anuak women and girls have been left vulnerable to such
sexual atrocities. Due to the isolation of women and girls in rural areas,
rapes remain substantially under-reported.
Some 6,000 to 8,000 Anuak remain
at refugee camps in Pochalla, Sudan; and
there are an estimated 1,000 Anuak refugees in Kenya. The Disaster
Preparedness and Prevention Bureau (DPPB), a regional body that works
closely with international aid groups, estimated in August 2004 that
approximately 25% (roughly 50,000 people) of Gambella's population had been
"Many, many men have been
killed since the problem began," says one
witness. "Many men ran away into the bush and have been hunted by the
soldiers. Women and girls are left undefended in their homes. They are
raping many girls. They keep some women by force."
The violence has almost
completely disrupted this year's planting season,
and people see famine in the coming winter months
(October-March)--exacerbated by the destruction of milling machines and
According to Anuak sources
relying on sympathetic oppositionists within the
regime, the EPRDF plans to access the petroleum of Gambella were laid out
at a top-level cabinet meeting in Addis Ababa in September 2003. Prime
Minister Meles Zenawi chaired the meeting, at which the military cleansing
of the Anuaks was reportedly openly discussed. Also present were Gen.
Abdullah Gamada, head of the EPRDF military, Vice-Prime Minister Adisu
Lagesse, and Omot Obang Olom, security chief for the Gambella region, an
ethnic Anuak. Petroleum operations--heavily guarded by EPRDF troops--are
rapidly moving forward.
THE "RWANDA MODEL" IN GAMBELLA
While there is a history of
communal violence between indigenous minorities
in the Gambella region, evidence attests to patterns of EPRDF government
provocation, pitting tribe against tribe and neighbor against neighbor.
There is no evidence to support claims of communal violence between Anuaks
and the local Nuer ethic group, as has been reported by the New York Times
and other media, and by the EPRDF government.
Ethnic cleansing appears to be
sanctioned at the highest levels of the
EPRDF government, and there is evidence that the violence initiated by last
December's massacres in Gambella may have been deliberately instrumented to
justify a campaign against the Anuaks.
December 13, 2003 marked the start of a coordinated
military operation to
systematically eliminate Anuaks. Sources from inside the military
government's police and intelligence network say that the code name of the
military operation was: "OPERATION SUNNY MOUNTAIN."
In a pattern reminiscent of the
Interahamwe civilian militia involved in
the 1994 Rwanda genocide, operations by government troops were apparently
coordinated with local Highlanders, who set upon Anuak civilians with
rocks, sticks, hoes, machetes, knives, axes and pangas (clubs). Witnesses
described Highlanders chanting slogans as they hunted down and killed
Some 425 Anuak people were
reported killed in the initial outburst of
violence, with over 200 more wounded and some 85 people unaccounted for.
Since December 2003, sporadic murders and widespread rapes have continued
in Gambella town, but the rural countryside is awash in blood.
In February 2004, Genocide Watch
and Survivors' Rights International called
for an independent inquiry into the Gambella situation. That call was
Ten months after the pivotal
massacres, there is no indication that the
United Nations or any other formal body has undertaken an official
investigation of the killings of eight UN personnel on the morning of
December 13, 2003. The attack was blamed on Anuak guerillas, and
precipitated the wave of violence.
The killings reportedly occurred
on the road from Gambella to Itang town.
Sources report that Anuak policeman Ojo Akway was amongst the first group
of responders to the site of the ambush on the morning. Akway reportedly
found tracks that he wanted to immediately pursue to attempt to discover
those responsible for the UN killings - it was winter and the ground was
amenable to tracking. The Police Commander in Gambella, Tadese Haile
Selassie, is said to have ordered Akway's execution in order to remove the
problem of identifying the actual killers. Sources report that Akway was
detained later that day, driven out of Gambella town, tied to a tree along
the road to Abueal village, and shot in the head seven times. An informant
sympathetic to Anuaks provided the information to relatives, noting that
Akway's body was disappeared, his gun was brought back to town, and no
report was filed.
A federal police investigator
from Addis Ababa dispatched to Gambella in
July was also reportedly shot and killed. Charged with determining the
extent and nature of involvement of Gambella police in the December
massacres, the investigator was said to have identified many Highlander
police who were "fully involved" in the killing.
International and Ethiopian
human rights organizations say that the
killings in Gambella constituted acts of genocide, as defined by the
Genocide Convention. Arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions and torture are
occurring throughout Ethiopia. Arbitrary arrests and detentions of Anuak
people have occurred for years prior to the recent massacres. Reports
coming out of the Gambella region indicate that hundreds of people have
been arbitrary arrested and illegally detained, and that these people
remain under detention, subject to torture.
Ethiopia remains a pivotal ally
in the US "war against terror" in the Horn
of Africa, maintaining both covert and overt military operations and
Beginning July 2003, forces from
Pentagon's Combined Joint Task Force-Horn
of Africa (CJTF-HOA) held a three-month bilateral training exercise with
Ethiopian forces at the Hurso Training Camp, northwest of Dire Dawa. The US
Army's 10th Mountain Division recently completed a three-month program to
train an Ethiopian army division in counter-terrorism tactics. Operations
are coordinated through the CJTF-HOA regional base in Djibouti, where the
Halliburton subsidiary KBR is the prime contractor.
The CJTF-HOA region includes the
total airspace and land areas of Ethiopia,
Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan and Kenya, and the coastal waters of the
Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. In May 2004, US Brigadier General
Samuel T. Helland assumed command of the CJTF-HOA region.
On January 21, 2004 special
operations soldiers from the 3rd US Infantry
Regiment--"The Old Guard," Bravo Company--replaced the 10th Mountain
Division forces at a new base established at Hurso, Ethiopia, to be used
for launching local joint missions with the Ethiopian military. A new
forward base named "Camp United" has also been established in the area--a
"temporary training facility in rural Ethiopia" used "as a launching ground
for local missions, predominately training with the Ethiopian military."
From 1995-2000, the US provided
some $1,835,000 in International Military
and Education Training (IMET) deliveries to Ethiopia. Some 115 Ethiopian
officers were trained under the IMET program from 1991-2001. Approximately
4,000 Ethiopian soldiers have participated in IMET since 1950.
For 2002 and 2003, Ethiopia
received some $2,817,000 through the IMET and
Foreign Military Sales and Deliveries programs. The US also equipped,
trained and supported Ethiopian troops under the Africa Regional
Peacekeeping Program. Ethiopia has remained a participant of the IMET
program in 2000-2004.
In August 2003, the U.S.
committed $28 million for international trade
enhancements with Ethiopia.
In 2003, US AID, working with
Africare and Catholic Relief Services, was
providing disaster relief to "combat famine in the drought-stricken
Gambella region of Ethiopia." The US State Department 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, and the US Embassy in Ethiopia.
Immediately following the
February 16, 2004, release of a report by
Genocide Watch and Survivor's Rights International ("Today is the Day of
Killing Anuaks") the United States issued a formal call for "an independent
investigation" into the events in Gambella. The State Department and the UN
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) condemned the ongoing
violence in Gambella. Each agency called for "[f]ully transparent and
independent investigations by the government" that would "encourage
restoration of peace in the troubled region," and called on the Ethiopian
government to investigate allegations of EPRDF involvement in atrocities.
In the spring, the EPRDF
government launched an "independent inquiry" into
the Gambella violence. The Independent Inquiry Commission, established by
the Ethiopian House of Peoples' Representatives, reported that few members
of the Ethiopian armed forces were involved in the Gambella killings.
In April 1, 2004, testimony
before a House of Representatives
appropriations panel, US AID representatives asked Congress to approve
some $80 million in funding for Ethiopia programs in FY 2005. Ethiopia was
described as a "top priority" of the Bush administration. US AID boasted of
programs "that lay the groundwork to establish a market-based economy
hospitable to investment..."
In a letter of August 6, twelve
members of the US Congress called on Prime
Minister Meles Zenawi to protect citizens from harm and ensure humanitarian
access to the Gambella region. Asking the Meles government to hold
officials accountable for any involvement in the violence, the letter also
asked for an English version of the Independent Inquiry Commission findings
on situation in Gambella.
On September 16, US Senator
Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced a bill to the
House Committee on Appropriations calling for substantive attention to the
The US Department of Defense
Central Command (CENTCOM) and European Command
(EUCOM) are the pivotal forces behind the "Golden Spear" anti-terrorism
program initiated in 2000 to "address issues of terrorism, humanitarian
crises, natural disasters, drugs trafficking and refugees in the greater
horn of Africa."
"Golden Spear" members
include Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, Djibouti,
Seychelles and Egypt. Ethiopia sponsored the July 28-30, 2003 "Golden
Spear" symposium (held at Addis Ababa), designed by the DoD "to provide a
forum for strategic-level dialogue on current security issues" in the
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles
Zenawi said "the consensus reached at the
meeting was a major achievement towards the enhancement of national
capacities as well as collaborative efforts to deal with disasters, thus
protecting development gains the region has attained over the years."
Meetings of the Golden Spear
military group occurred in June in the
Seychelles, and July in Tampa, FLA. Participants in July included Ethiopia,
Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of
Congo, Tanzania and Seychelles.
GAMBELLA OIL RUSH
Sources report ten military
camps in the immediate vicinity of Gambella
town, with an estimated 60 to 100 troops at each. The three major camps are
Terfshalaka, about seven kilometers from Gambella town on the Addis Ababa
road; Mekod, at the Gambella airport; and a base in the middle of Gambella
town. An estimated 60 to 75 troops can be seen at the Gambella airport.
Troops are everywhere in the town.
Witnesses report trucks of
soldiers perpetually coming and going from
Gambella along the roads into rural areas. Soldiers were seen to openly
extort money and goods from civilians. Vehicles traveling along the roads
are expected to stop and pick up any soldiers waiting for rides. Rights
workers reportedly witnessed a church building that had been expropriated
by soldiers and turned into a semi-permanent barracks. A nearby school was
also expropriated and occupied.
On June 13, 2003, Malaysia's
state-owned petroleum corporation, PETRONAS,
announced the signing of an exclusive 25-year oil exploration and
production sharing agreement with the EPRDF government to exploit the
Ogaden Basin and the "Gambella Block" or "Block G" concession. On February
17, 2004, the Ethiopian Minister of Mines announced that Malaysia's
PETRONAS will launch a natural gas exploration project in the Gambella
region. Block G covers an area of 15,356 square kilometers within the
According to Anuak sources, the
Ethiopian government held a public meeting
in Gambella in February, even as violence against Anuak in rural areas was
continuing to rise. One witness testified:
"They told people about the
oil and how it would benefit everyone. But the
Anuak said: 'How can you talk to us about oil when people are still being
killed? We don't want to talk about the oil.' But the government said, 'No,
we want to talk about the oil now.'"
The Zhongyuan Petroleum
Exploration Bureau (ZPEB), a powerful subsidiary of
China's second largest national petroleum consortium, the China
Petrochemical Corporation (SINOPEC), appears to be the principal oil firm
operating in Gambella at present, under subcontract to Malaysia's national
oil company PETRONAS.
The base camp for ZPEB equipment
and petroleum explorations is located
approximately 1.5 kilometers from the center of Gambella town on the
Abobo-Gambella road. The Ethiopian site manager, Mr. Degefe, is a
highlander who tersely describes himself as "responsible for making all
operations and security." The base camp is under tight security and heavily
guarded by EPRDF troops.
PETRONAS and the China National
Petroleum Corporation currently operate in
Sudan. A recent report by Human Rights Watch raises charges that the Asian
oil giants have provided cover for their respective governments to ship
arms and military equipment to Sudan in exchange for oil concessions
granted by Khartoum.
While not cited in the above
Human Rights Watch report, ZPEB operates a
concession for oil and gas exploration in Block 6 in the Republic of Sudan.
ZPEB also operates in petroleum extraction in the Yli Basin of China's
Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, an area noted for egregious human rights
violations and systematic state terror against the indigenous Uighur
people. According to Human Rights Watch: "Much like Tibetans, the Uighurs
in Xinjiang (western China) have struggled for cultural survival in the
face of a government- supported influx by Chinese migrants, as well as
harsh repression of political dissent and any expression, however lawful or
peaceful, of their distinct identity."
On September 18, 2004, a notice
was posted around Gambella town indicating
that the Southwest Development Company (a new Highlander-owned venture)
would be accepting applications for new hires to fill some 117 positions in
support of "construction and petroleum related operations in Gambella
region." On September 19, 2004 another notice seeking an additional 70
workers was posted around Gambella town. The posters were stamped with the
official seal of the office of the Gambella People's National Regional
Anuak sources in Gambella state:
"The Anuak people have not been involved
in the discussions about the oil, our leaders have not agreed to these
projects, and they will not hire any Anuaks for these jobs. If any Anuak
says anything about the oil he will be arrested."
CROCODILES AND RATS
The few reports about the
situation that have appeared in the international
press have misrepresented and distorted the nature of the violence.
Reporters traveling to the region have relied upon the EPRDF for security
and information, and attempts by Anuaks to make the truth known have
largely been ignored. National Public Radio last spring described Anuaks as
primitives "once went naked and ate rats."
Marc Lacey reported from
Gambella for the New York Times (June 15, 2004)
simultaneous to the Ethiopian military's ongoing scorched earth campaign
against rural villages. Lacey, who arrived with a government
escort--including an Ethiopian intelligence and security team comprised of
perpetrators of "the problem"--related no first-hand accounts from Anuaks
of the summary executions, massacres and mass rape by EPRDF soldiers.
Instead, the Times opted for a picturesque story of pastoral harmony,
mentioning the violence almost in passing and even noting the threat to
local bathers from crocodiles.
"Bath time here is a
communal affair," read Lacey's lead. "Everyone grabs a
bar of soap and heads down to the river. As they stand naked in the water a
few feet from one another, lathering and rinsing in unison, people from
Gambella's various ethnic groups appear at ease. The Anuak, the Nuer and
the highlanders all use the Baro River as their tub."
Just across the Baro River are Anuak villages with scars attesting
huts that were torched--some with people inside. But these went unmentioned
by the New York Times. The EPRDF military has been said to routinely dump
the bodies of the disappeared in Gambella's rivers.