More than 33,000 Ethiopian farmers have fled across the Ogaden Desert into Somalia in the past two months to escape the Ethiopian government's "villagization" program, according to international relief officials here.
The farmers, who are classified by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees as "political refugees," have told relief workers they fled after Ethiopian officials forced them to move away from their farms and ordered them to rebuild their houses in new, centralized villages as far as 10 miles away.
The refugees, who continue to stream into Somalia from the eastern Ethiopian region of Harerge at a rate of between 500 and 1,000 a day, have created a "critical situation" at a Somali refugee camp where 17 persons died last month from cholera, according to Hugh Hudson, a spokesman here for the U.N. refugee commission.
He said "some" of the refugees who have flooded into Somalia's Tug Wajale transit camp, about six miles from the Ethiopian border, had gunshot wounds. They apparently were shot while escaping their new villages, he said.
Ethiopia's "villagization" program, which was ordered personally by the country's leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam, moved about 1 million farmers inside the Harerge region last year. They were the first wave of a massive, country-wide relocation that, according to Ethiopian officials, will move about 33 million people in the next nine years, the largest such movement in the history of modern Africa.
"Villagization" is a separate program from Ethiopia's more publicized resettlement scheme, which has moved about 600,000 peasants from drought areas in the northern highlands to southwestern Ethiopia.
The professed aim of "villagization" is to cluster rural people together to provide them with "social services and economic assistance," according to Kassaye Aragaw, the top official in Harerge for Marxist Ethiopia's Worker's Party.
Western diplomats say one motive for the government program is to cut off peasant support for antigovernment separatists, such as the Oromo Liberation Front, which directs guerrilla forces in parts of southern Ethiopia.
Development specialists and relief officials in Addis Ababa have said that "villagization," by disrupting the lives of peasant farmers, is likely to create more famine just as Ethiopia recovers from one of the worst droughts in its history.
The Harerge region, which had its worst harvest in recent memory this winter, is the only region in Ethiopia that will need more food assistance in 1986 than it received last year, according to the Ethiopian government. U.N. officials say part of the reason for the food shortage, along with bad weather, is the size and suddenness of the mass movement of farmers.