WASHINGTON Satellite images confirm reports
that the Ethiopian military has burned towns and villages in
the remote Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia, the American
Association for the Advancement of Science reported on
Eight sites in the rocky, arid region, which borders
Somalia, have clear signs of burning and other destruction, the
AAAS Science and Human Rights Program said.
The commercially available images corroborate a report by
Human Rights Watch, also issued on Thursday, that uses
eyewitness accounts of attacks on tens of thousands of
ethnic-Somali Muslims living in the area, the AAAS said.
"The Ethiopian authorities frequently dismiss human rights
reports, saying that the witnesses we interviewed are liars and
rebel supporters," Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at the
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
"But it will be much more difficult for them to dismiss the
evidence presented in the satellite images, as images like that
don't lie," he said.
Ethiopia, a key regional ally of the United States,
launched its latest offensive after the Ogaden National
Liberation Front attacked a Chinese-run oil field in the region
in April 2007, killing more than 70 people.
Ethiopian government officials in Addis Ababa routinely
reject allegations against their counter-insurgency operations
and accuse the rebels of abusing locals.
Lars Bromley, project director for the Science and Human
Rights Program at AAAS, said his team analyzed several before
and after satellite images of villages identified by Human
Right Watch as possible locations of human rights violations.
They found eight, mostly in villages and small towns in the
Wardheer, Dhagabur and Qorrahey Zones, that appeared to have
been burned or destroyed recently.
For example, in the town of Labigah, 40 structures
identified in a September 2005 image were gone in images taken
in February 2008. In the Human Rights Watch report an
eyewitness said the Ethiopian army "went into every village and
set it on fire."
Such reports are nearly impossible to corroborate because
the region "may well be the most isolated place on earth, save
perhaps the densest parts of the Congolese or Amazon rain
forests," Bromley said.
It is also difficult to tell what is going on in some
villages, AAAS said.
"While some towns are considered permanent, they can grow
and shrink over the course of a year due to fluctuations in
nomadic populations, and many smaller villages will relocate
altogether," the report reads.
"To ensure the most accurate results, AAAS for the most
part sought to review only permanent towns in the Ogaden, as
indicated by their location along a well-defined road and by
the presence of square structures with metal-sheet or brick
roofing, and most often including a mosque."
AAAS has used satellite images to support reports of
widespread abuses in Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Burma, Chad and the
Darfur region of Sudan.
The report is available on the Internet at
(Reporting by Maggie Fox; editing by David Wiessler)