TV series sparks diplomatic row

Kenyans who have taken refuge at the chief's camp in Dukana area of Chalbi district. They are fearing attacks from members of Oromo Liberation Front who have been fighting with Ethiopian security forces. Photo/WILLIAM OERI

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  • Airing of programme on rebels amounts to supporting illegal group, says Ethiopia

Ethiopia sent a stiff protest to Kenya on Thursday, seeking to stop the Nation Media Group from airing a television programme on a rebel movement fighting the Addis Ababa Government.

Kenya’s ambassador was summoned to the Ethiopian Foreign ministry as the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi launched a diplomatic offensive to block NTV’s four-part investigative report on the Oromo Liberation Front, which went on air last night.

It was the climax of a dramatic week in which Ethiopia’s ambassador to Kenya, Mr Disasa Dirribsa, first sent a protest letter to the Nation Media Group after NTV began promoting its exclusive series on the secretive guerrilla group based in southern Ethiopia.

Ethiopia accused NTV of lending support to an unlawful organisation and warned that airing the programme could undermine relations with Kenya.

Appeals to cancel the series were backed by Kenya’s Foreign ministry, which argued that Kenya’s national interests were at stake in the diplomatic row.

The Ethiopian embassy wrote to the Nation Media Group dismissing the OLF as “a terrorist group whose activities have been known to be anti-democratic and anti-peace”.

Mr Dirribsa wrote: “It is a minority group whose agenda runs parallel to the aspirations of the Oromo people. Indeed, OLF has been totally rejected by the overwhelming majority of the Oromo population, who are exercising and enjoying their democratic rights.”

He said airing the programme confirmed suspicion of a larger conspiracy to “speak for these terrorist elements in our sub-region, leading us to question NTV’s covert or overt political agenda”.

In the programme, NTV ventures into the OLF infested territory in south western Ethiopia to demystify a guerrilla outfit that has fought successive Ethiopian governments for over three decades.

The NTV crew spent five days travelling through the rough and dusty terrain cutting through Isiolo and Marsabit to Moyale at the Kenya-Ethiopia border, where an OLF linkman smuggled them into the rebels’ bases on the Ethiopian side.

So shadowy is the OLF leadership that it took the NTV crew three years to make contact with the rebels.

For three days, journalists witnessed first-hand the punishing training the OLF recruits undergo in the rough terrain.

As part of the pressure to block NTV, which is owned by the Nation Media Group, from airing the programme, Kenya’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Mr Franklin Esipila, was summoned by the the Foreign ministry in Addis Ababa.

Several meetings have been held between Foreign Affairs ministry officials, the Ethiopian embassy and Nation Media Group management to lobby for the withdrawal of the programme, but to no avail.

Broke ranks

The Oromo Liberation Front is a separatist outfit formed in 1973 to champion the liberation of the Oromo people from Ethiopian rule.

However, a large portion of the ethnic group participate in Ethiopian politics and are even in the government.

Fighting alongside rebel forces under the command of Mr Zenawi, the OLF was instrumental in the overthrow of Mengistu Haile Mariam.

The OLF later broke ranks with Mr Zenawi’s transitional government.

Ethiopian forces and rebels have been accused of crossing into the Kenyan border districts of Moyale and Marsabit.

The Turbi massacre of 2005 in which 60 people were killed in Marsabit was blamed on the war between Ethiopian Government forces and the OLF.