ADDIS ABABA — Ethiopia’s main rebel group on Tuesday claimed to have captured an army garrison town and killed 94 government soldiers in a major operation.
The Ethiopian government denied the town had been captured and said the attack had been successfully repelled.
The statement by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) comes five days ahead of general elections in Ethiopia. It did not specify the date of the attack.
It said that rebel units captured the garrison at Malqaqa, situated on the road between Jijiga and Harar in eastern Ethiopia.
“The Ethiopian regime’s forces lost 94 soldiers and the casualties of the ONLF were minimal given that our forces had the advantage of the element of surprise,” it added.
The Ethiopian government called the ONLF’s claim “completely unfounded and a total lie.”
“Some ONLF fighters have made an attack on the police force and the local police force not only was able to defend itself but completely wiped out the rebels,” government spokesman Shimeles Kemal told AFP.
He said all the rebels were killed, while there were several wounded among the local police.
The Ethiopian government generally claims that the ONLF is on its last legs and dismisses its statements as fabrication and propaganda.
The ONLF has repeatedly denied allegations that its fighting capacity has been decimated since Ethiopia launched a crackdown in 2008, after the rebels attacked a Chinese oil venture the previous year killing 77 people.
The group said in November that it had launched a broad offensive on several fronts and recaptured seven towns from government forces, a claim swiftly refuted by authorities.
Formed in 1984, the ONLF is fighting for independence for ethnic Somalis in the Ogaden, whom they say have been marginalised by the government in Addis Ababa.