Friday, July 27, 2007

Red Cross rejects Ethiopian charges after expulsion

(Waridaad) - GENEVA, July 26 (Reuters).

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Thursday rejected accusations it was consorting with rebels in Ethiopia's restive Ogaden region, and said its expulsion would hurt needy civilians there.

The Swiss-based humanitarian agency denounced the decision on Tuesday by authorities in Ethiopia's Somali regional state giving it seven days' notice to leave after 12 years."

All ICRC activities in Ethiopia are conducted in strict accordance with the principles of independence and neutrality," Daniel Duvillard, head of ICRC operations for the Horn of Africa, said in a statement. "The ICRC firmly rejects the accusations made against it."

Dialogue between the ICRC and the region's authorities and security forces had deteriorated to a point where "issues of contention were not discussed in depth" before the ejection order was issued, Duvillard said.

The ICRC said it was ready to discuss the matter with Ethiopian authorities so it could continue its humanitarian activities in the Somali regional state, where it deploys 10 expatriates and 79 national staff.

The expulsion shocked other humanitarian groups working in the desolate Ogaden area bordering Somalia, where a guerrilla group has accused the Ethiopian authorities of blockading food relief, choking commercial trade and risking "man-made famine".

A spokesman for the regional government told Reuters on Wednesday that ICRC had been repeatedly warned "to desist from a smear campaign against the regional government and from supplying material and finance to a rebel group attempting to destabilise the region".

The ICRC said that it carried out its aid work "impartially and on strictly humanitarian grounds".
"A suspension of ICRC activities will inevitably have a negative impact on the population concerned, whose access to basic services will be reduced," it said.

A large proportion of the Somali regional state's population benefited from its water and sanitation projects, including efforts to build hand pumps and dig of wells, it said. ICRC officials also train livestock owners and visit detention centres to assess conditions and treatment of inmates.

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