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Ethiopia denies forcing indigenous people off land for foreign investors

By Tesfa-Alem Tekle | Sudan Tribune | May 17, 2012

ADDIS ABABA – The Ethiopian government has rejected growing accusations that it is forcibly relocating tens of thousands of indigenous people in the country’s south west in order to lease the land for commercial agriculture, mainly to foreign investors.

Earlier this year, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Ethiopian government, under its “villagization” program, has forcibly resettled an estimated 70,000 indigenous residents from the western Gambella region to new villages where there is inadequate food, farmland and access to healthcare, and education.

HRW claim resettlement has been carried out forcibly and those who refuse it face assault and arbitrary arrest at the hands of state security forces. These are allegations which Addis Ababa denies.

Government spokesperson, Shimels Kemal on Wednesday told Sudan Tribune that the accusations are “baseless” and are part of politically motivated smear campaign.

Kemal said the land being leased is only in areas that are currently agricultural, uninhabited or sparsely populated.

He conceded that relocations have taken place in the area, but said this had been done in consultation with the local populous and with their consent.

The relocated people received assistance in establishing new lives according to Kemal.

The Ethiopian government argues that the resettlement program is part of its strategy to ensure pastoralist areas of the country benefit from development and provides them with the necessary socio-economic infrastructures.

The programs have so far seen the relocation of some 20,000 households in the Gambella region and over 100,000 have also been resettled in Benshangul and Somali regions.

The Ethiopian government has plans to resettle some 1.5 million people by 2013 in Gambella, Afar, Somali, and Benishangul-Gumuz regions, in order to establish large-scale plantations there.

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