NAIROBI (Reuters) - Ethiopia’s Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebels said on Sunday they had killed another 270 government troops in heightened fighting in the remote eastern region of the Horn of Africa nation.
Most were blown up in packed trucks, the rebels said.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government has regularly denied ONLF reports of mass casualties as propaganda from the its foreign supporters. It has itself reported many deaths on the rebel side during its offensive against them this year.
No independent assessment of casualties has been possible as the region is effectively off-limits to foreign journalists and is also often difficult to access for aid workers.
The Ogaden conflict is the worst of several insurgencies that Meles’ government faces in the outer regions of Ethiopia.
Security forces launched an unprecedented offensive against the ONLF, which wants more autonomy for the arid region, after it killed 74 people during a raid on a Chinese-run oil exploration field earlier this year.
In its latest “military communique”, the ONLF said “large numbers” of its fighters had engaged government troops in five places between Oct 26-Nov 1 due to “summary executions, detentions of nomads and senseless shooting of livestock”.
“These engagements resulted in over 270 TPLF (government) troops killed with an unconfirmed number wounded. Five military transport vehicles were destroyed by RPG-7s. The transport vehicles were full of troops when they were struck,” it said.
“Military engagements between ONLF troops and TPLF forces in the Ogaden have increased significantly over the last two weeks. This increase appears to be a coordinated and deliberate escalation in armed conflict initiated by the TPLF regime despite the humanitarian crisis in the Ogaden.”
Ethiopian officials were not immediately available for fresh comment on the latest ONLF statement. Last month, the rebels also claimed they had killed 250 soldiers in other fighting.
The ONLF gave no information of its own casualties.
Ethiopia accuses the ONLF, which is thought by analysts to number several thousand armed men, of being terrorists supported by arch-foe and neighbour Eritrea.