July 3, 2007 (ADDIS ABABA) — An Ethiopian rebel group said it ambushed and killed 43 soldiers in the east Tuesday, but a government spokesman denied any fighting took place.
The Ogaden National Liberation Front issued a statement saying its forces ambushed a 20-vehicle government convoy on Monday near Shilabo, 650 kilometers east of the capital, and captured weapons, ammunition and nine soldiers. The group said five rebel fighters died and eight were wounded.
"Battlefield engagements between ONLF forces and (government) troops over the last three weeks have resulted in a total of 247 TPLF regime troops killed and a similar number wounded," the statement said.
Bereket Simon, special adviser to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, called the report "simply a joke."
"They are not in a position to stand and fight with our army, that is what is known," he told The AP. "Its just a ploy to get media attention, there is nothing of that sort. I know for sure what is happening on the ground."
Bereket said the Ethiopian army had captured a number of ONLF fighters in recent months, and said he doubted the capability of the rebel group.
"If they can inflict such big losses, why don’t they come here?" he added, referring to the capital city.
The ONLF is fighting to overthrow the government for what it says are human rights abuses in the eastern Ogaden region of Ethiopia and to establish greater autonomy.