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HRW: Ethiopia forcing pastoralists out

2012-06-18 17:29

Addis Ababa - Ethiopia is forcing thousands of pastoralists from their land in the southern Omo valley to make way for sugar plantations, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report on Monday, a charge denied by the government.

"The Ethiopian government is forcibly displacing indigenous pastoral communities in Ethiopia's Lower Omo valley without adequate consultation or compensation," the New York-based group reported.

Pastoralists are communities whose main livelihood is raising livestock.

An official with the group estimated that between 5 000 and 10 000 people have been displaced.

About 100 000ha of land has been earmarked for commercial agriculture in the Omo valley, where several state-run sugar plantations and cotton farms are already in operation.

The government denied the accusation and said any relocation in the area is happening voluntarily.

"There is no forcing out of people from their residence, the direction of the government in this regard is to engage the public, if there is any reason to relocate people, then it is based on... open communication," government spokesperson Bereket Simon told AFP.

The rights watchdog accused Ethiopian authorities of intimidation, arrest and violence against those who oppose the plans.

"Government officials have carried out arbitrary arrests and detentions, beatings, and other violence against residents of the Lower Omo valley who questioned or resisted the development plans," HRW said.

But Bereket said the sugar plantation schemes in the Omo valley will develop and modernise the region.

"We are concerned with (community) wellbeing, their cultural heritage and this is not a project to dismantle their cultural heritage, it's the opposite actually," he said.

Most of the 200 000 people living in the Omo valley are agro-pastoralists using the land for cultivation and animal grazing.

The Omo River is also a lifeline for the communities in the valley who rely on its annual flooding for growing crops.