Thursday, August 11

Villagers massacred in western Ethiopia, says state-appointed body | Ethiopian

An unknown number of villagers have been killed in an ethnically motivated massacre in western Ethiopia, the country’s state-appointed rights body said, in the latest wave of violence following a mass killing in mid-June.

The Oromia region, where the Amhara are a minority ethnic group, has experienced outbreaks of violence for many years, rooted in grievances about political marginalization and neglect by the central government.

The killings took place on Monday in two villages in Kellem Wollega, about 250 miles (400km) west of the capital, Addis Ababa, the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said.

It blamed the killings on the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), a banned splinter group of an opposition party that has been accused of widespread atrocities against ethnic Amharas and security forces.

Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, also blamed the OLA for the attacks, which he also called a “massacre”.

The government has not given any details on the number of casualties and it has not been possible to independently verify the events.

An OLA spokesperson, Odaa Tarbii, rejected accusations of responsibility. He said government-allied militias were to blame and federal troops recently deployed in the area did nothing to stop the killings. “The prime minister’s accusation is an attempt by the regime to deflect from the fact that it is struggling to maintain order in its own forces,” he told Reuters.

Ethiopia’s government spokesperson, Legesse Tulu, said the OLA was attempting to shift blame on to the government, calling it a tactic “any terrorist group uses to hides their evil works”.

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The US-based Amhara Association of America (AAA) tweeted it was “gravely concerned over reports of yet another massacre against Amharas” in the Oromia region.

It said in a message to AFP that the attack targeted members of the ethnic Amhara group in Mender 20 (Village 20) in the Hawa Gelan district of Qellem Wollega. “One of our investigators did talk to three eyewitnesses … hiding in a forest nearby,” the AAA said, adding that the attack began at 6am local time (0400 BST) and was still going on when he spoke to the witnesses around noon.

About 340 people were killed in the same region last month in one of the deadliest such incidents for several years in Ethiopia.

Ethnic violence has risen across the country in recent years, prompting the government to establish a regional command in 2019 to coordinate the response of federal and regional security forces to violence by armed groups.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch published a report that sharply criticized the counter-insurgency.

“In western Oromia, an abusive government counter-insurgency campaign against an armed group, the Oromo Liberation Army” had led to mass detentions and atrocities, with “civilians caught in between suffering numerous abuses”, HRW said. Security forces were routinely rounding up young Oromos accused of supporting the OLA and detaining them without trial, it added.

Aid agencies, the media and rights groups have also had limited access to the region to making it difficult to independently verify abuses.

The EHRC called late on Monday for an immediate stabilisation. “The continued insecurity in the area and what appears to be the ethnically targeted killing of residents must be put to a stop immediately,” Daniel Bekele, the head of the EHRC, said in a statement.

Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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