Witnesses said on Wednesday that gunmen killed at least 30 civilians in an attack on a village in the Ethiopian region of Oromia, the latest outbreak of ethnic violence to challenge the federal government.
Farmer Wossen Andaege, 50, said his neighbours were killed during the Tuesday night attack in the West Wollega Zone of Oromia. He identified the victims as ethnic Amharas.
“We took the bodies using a car and we buried 30 people,” said Wossen told Reuters news agency by phone. He said he and his family heard gunshots and fled to a nearby government office to wait for protection from federal troops.
A resident of the Babo-Gembel district where the attack took place told AFP news agency that gunmen arrived after 9pm (18:00 GMT), forced residents to gather outside in a group and shot them dead.
“The place had no security cover from government security forces at the time. I found 29 bodies lying in one area, while there were other bodies scattered in nearby areas,” said the man, a guard at an Orthodox church, who spoke on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.
Local authorities blamed the attack, in which 15 more people were wounded, on a splinter group from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), known as OLF Shane or the Oromo Liberation Army. The OLF is an opposition party that spent years in exile but was unbanned after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018.
“Although the [OLA] has been weakened by measures taken by the government together with the community to ensure rule of law, out of a feeling of desperation it continues to carry out attacks on civilians,” a statement from the Oromia regional government said.
The Oromo are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group and the Amhara are its second-largest. The two neighbouring regions of Amhara and Oromia share a border. Civilians from one ethnic group living on the other side of the border have both been subject to attacks in recent months.
Tewodrose Tirfe, chairman of the Amhara Association of America based in Washington, DC, said “in the month of March well over 300 Amharas, including women and children, have been massacred by the Oromo Liberation Army”.
He also accused the government of being “silent” on killings.
‘Additional rights violations’
OLF Shane says it is fighting for the rights of the Oromos. Odaa Tarbii, a spokesperson for the group, denied responsibility for the attack.
“These allegations directed towards us are false and are part of a long-running concerted operation by the government to frame the Oromo Liberation Army as a lawless outfit,” he wrote.
Elias Umeta, head of Western Wollega Zone, did not respond to requests for comment. The Oromia region’s communications office issued a statement saying OLF Shane killed an unknown number of civilians.
The state-affiliated Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said: “The latest attacks on civilians in Western Wollega show that the security situation in the area has not improved and is instead spreading to neighbouring regions and causing additional human rights violations.”
Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country, is struggling to control several flashpoints where ethnic rivalries over land, power and resources have ignited ahead of national elections scheduled for June.
Prime Minister Abiy has promised to hold the first free and fair polls, but some of his reforms have also emboldened regional strongmen and groups angered by what they describe as decades of government repression.