Worsening violence in western Ethiopia forces civilians to flee | Conflict News

Tibebu Girma can no longer risk it. A farmer in the Qellem Wollega area, in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, the 30-year-old makes a living growing maize and selling it in markets in neighboring villages. But a recent wave of deadly attacks targeting civilians of Amhara origin convinced him that it was time to pack his bags and leave with his wife and their baby to a safer place.

“They don’t even spare women and children,” Tibebu told Al Jazeera by phone. “We are not safe here.”

At least 12 people, including a seven-year-old child, were killed to death in two particularly brutal attacks on February 25 in the villages of Boka and Nechlu, in eastern Oromia, several sources told Al Jazeera. Among the civilians killed were two of Tibebu’s uncles, Teshome Beyene and Tadesse Muluneh, who were farmers in the area.

“They won’t even let us heal,” Tibebu said. “There have been more killings in the same region this week.”

According to Ethiopian state media, 42 people were killed in two separate attacks on March 6 and 9 that targeted Amhara civilians in the Horo Guduru Welega area of ​​Oromia.

Located about 200 kilometers (124 miles) west of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, the Horo Guduru Welega area is in an area populated by people who come from Ethiopia’s Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups, which together make up about two-thirds of the country. population of 110 million.

Sayd Hassen has lost his wife, Mulu Mekonnen, as well as three children and a niece, the latter four aged 10 to 15. They were shot along with at least 20 others when their village of Dachin Gefersa was attacked on March 9.

“My family went through the worst of barbarities at a time when even animal rights are respected,” said Sayd, 56. “What crime have my children committed? Being Amhara cost them their lives.

Sayd said the murderers ransacked the family home and fled with clothes, money and livestock. He is currently taking refuge in a school with hundreds of others who have also been displaced by the attack.

“Living as a beggar in a safe place would be better than staying here,” Sayd said. “The murderers of my family are still there.”

“Nobody stops them”

Victims attribute the killings to fighters belonging to the separatist Oromo Liberation Army (OLA).

The OLA is the separatist armed wing of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which was founded in the 1970s to fight for the self-determination of the Oromo ethnic group. In 2018, new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s promises of political reform saw the OLF decriminalized and allowed to join party politics. But negotiations with the armed wing eventually deteriorated, and the OLA broke away from the political organization and resumed fighting.

Ethiopian authorities accuse them of kidnappings, assassinations of officials and other crimes throughout Oromia. The OLA denies being behind the killings of civilians and instead blames former members of the base who left their group.

“They [OLA fighters] are easily identifiable by their hairstyles, ”a resident of Jardega Jarte told Al Jazeera, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Images of the group’s fighters uploaded to social media typically show young people dressed in camouflage with hair worn in dreadlocks. “They kill, steal, do whatever they want and no one stops them,” the resident said.

Residents Al Jazeera spoke to accused Horo Guduru Welega and neighboring zonal administrations of being aware of the problem, but generally taking no action, turning a blind eye to the suffering of Amhara villagers.

“We have repeatedly begged them to do something to improve security, but they are doing nothing,” said Damtew Kassa, a farmer who lived in a village near Shambu town.

Damtew’s cousin Kindeneh Gizachew 25 was among the dead in the February 25 attack in Nechlu. His severely mutilated body was found with his arms tied.

“I think the authorities sympathize with the attackers,” Damtew said. “The police only show up after the attackers have left, or sometimes not at all,” he added. “The government knows the problem. No one has ever been arrested for these crimes. “

Tewodros Tirfe, president of the US-based advocacy organization Amhara Association of America, which documents rights violations in the region, echoed the view that regional administrators are exacerbating the problem.

“There is a clear indication that local officials are complicit in the attacks,” he told Al Jazeera. “The OLA carried out numerous massacres, either just before the arrival of the security forces or after they and the local administration left the region. This implies that there is an information leak or some kind of collaboration. “

Al Jazeera contacted the head of the Horo Guduru Welega zonal administration, Bekele Dechassa, by phone. He was asked about complaints from his constituency that his leaders were either complicit in recent killings or turned a blind eye to them.

“These are baseless allegations,” Bekele replied, but he was also reluctant to discuss the details of his administration’s response to recent tragedies in his jurisdiction.

Federal government accuses leaders of the former Tigray regional government led by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF), against which it launched a military operation late last year, of orchestrating attacks against civilians across the country. He has yet to provide evidence for his claims.

“In the past two years, there have been 113 major incidents in which lives have been lost and property destroyed,” Abiy said in a speech to parliament in November. “By using people from within and coordinating efforts, [the TPLF] assured that there would be terror throughout the country.

In December last year, federal forces arrested five officials from the Benishangul-Gumuz regional government in western Ethiopia on charges of facilitating attacks on civilians in the area.

In January, the Ethiopian state-backed Human Rights Commission released a report accusing local authorities of inaction in the face of horrific mob violence that targeted the Amhara ethnic group following the murder, the June 29, by popular Ethiopian musician and Oromo icon Hachalu Hundessa.

According to the report, victims who pleaded for assistance were told that “the senior officers gave no orders to intervene.” A resident of Dera town reportedly said the town-based contingent of 150 police stood idly by on the night of June 29, as assailants killed people and burned houses.

The rise in ethnic violence in recent years has devastated Amhara ethnic communities in parts of western Ethiopia. In November, more than 50 members of the Amhara ethnic group were massacred at a school in western Oromia. On December 23, the attackers killed more than 200 civilians of Amhara, Shinasha and Oromo origin in the neighboring region of Benishangul-Gumuz.

Violence has already driven at least 100,000 people to flee the region since July 2020, according to United Nations data.

“Ethnic politics generally leads to the demonization of minorities as local officials scramble to bolster their popularity by ostracizing minorities. So the system victimizes the weak and the different and encourages narratives that fuel violence, ”said Addisu Lashitew, researcher at the Brookings Institution.

“In view of this, the targeted killing of dozens of Amhara minorities in the Horo Guduru area should come as no surprise,” he added, calling for legal guarantees to protect minorities in addition to giving them representation. Politics.

“A political system that does not respect this basic principle is not much better than the law of the jungle.”

At the end of 2019, there were more than 1.4 million internally displaced people across Ethiopia, according to the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Observatory. The conflict in Tigray has forced hundreds of thousands more from their homes, while the current trend in violence-stricken western Ethiopia appears poised to exacerbate the already serious internal displacement problems of the country. country.

“Until a few years ago it was peaceful here, but everything is messed up now,” said a sad Damtew.

“My cousin lived here for about a decade before he was killed. We’ve never had a problem with the Oromo or anyone else.

Damtew is moving his family to the neighboring Amhara region of Gojam, citing the growing danger. He says many more will follow.

“In my village, the Amhara and the Oromo are getting married. I speak both languages, which is common, ”said Faisal Ibrahim, who fled Bereecha to Horo Guduru last year, to Al Jazeera from Bahir Dar.

“But for the shene, it won’t be enough,” said the 30-year-old, using a term commonly used by some Ethiopians to refer to OLA.

“Even if you speak their language, they will pick up your phone and check if you are listening to Amharic or Oromo music. That’s all they need to kill you.

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