By EDMUND SANDERS
Los Angeles Times
NAIROBI, Kenya | The teenager awoke under a pile of corpses to a pricking sensation on her face. Ants were biting her eyelids and the inside of her mouth.
The pain, however, brought relief to the 17-year-old. “I thought, I’m alive,’ ” Ridwan Hassan Sahid remembers. She felt blood oozing from rope burns around her neck and the weight of a body against her back. But fearing that the
Ethiopian Woyanne soldiers who had left her for dead in a roadside ditch would return, she quickly brushed away the ants, shut her eyes and slipped back into unconsciousness.
The assault and miraculous escape is one of the most chilling stories to emerge from an unfolding tragedy in eastern Ethiopia that largely has escaped the attention of a world transfixed by the humanitarian crisis in neighboring Sudan’s Darfur region.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed and tens of thousands were displaced in the past year alone, although exact figures are unknown because the area is remote and
Ethiopian Woyanne officials restrict access to humanitarian groups and journalists.
Survivors such as Sahid offer the only glimpse into the unfolding tragedy. Now living in a secret location, the petite young woman shared her story recently.
Now 18, Sahid at times seems to be an average teenager, picking absent-mindedly at her henna-stained fingernails and blushing when strangers express interest in her. But behind her soft brown eyes is a weariness that belies her age, and a necklace of scar tissue rings her throat where the rope cut into her skin.
She recounts her ordeal without emotion. Only occasionally does her veneer crack long enough for a tear to roll down her check, which she self-consciously laughs off and wipes away.
“I wonder sometimes,” she says, “what kind of life I can have now.”
She grew up in the village of Qorile with eight siblings. The family, like most everyone else in the area, were semi-nomadic cattle and sheep herders.
Ever since she can remember,
Ethiopian Woyanne authorities were seen as the enemy.
“We feel as if we are living under occupation,” she says. “We grew up afraid of them.”
Ethiopian Woyanne officials accuse the Ogaden rebels of using terrorist tactics. In April 2007, the rebels killed more than 70 people at a Chinese-run exploration facility in the region.
The attack prompted what aid groups and witnesses call a heavy-handed response by the
Ethiopian Woyanne government. Troops are accused of burning down villages believed to be sheltering rebels, forcibly recruiting young men into government militias, raping women and imposing a commercial blockade that sent local food prices and malnutrition rates soaring.
“They used mass indiscriminate measures to collectively punish the entire population,” Human Rights Watch researcher Leslie Lefkow said.
To Condoleezza Rice, raping and hanging civilians like Ridwan is not considered terrorism. It is protecting United State’s interest. We hope the next U.S. Administration will change this inhumane policy on Africa.