At least 80 people were killed on Tuesday when unidentified gunmen stormed a village in western Ethiopia in the latest in a series of ethnic massacres in the region, the Ethiopian Commission said on Wednesday. human rights and witnesses.
The massacre in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, along the border with Sudan, is the latest challenge to the regime of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 by promising to unite Ethiopia but struggled to contain a growing wave of ethnic violence.
The attacks further threaten the stability of Africa’s second most populous nation at a time when Mr. Abiy is already embroiled in an escalation of conflict in the northern Tigray region, where he launched a major military operation on 4 November which he said was aimed at capturing local rebel leaders.
Analysts say the campaign in Tigray hampered Mr. Abiy’s ability to stem clashes like the recent one in Benishangul-Gumuz, as it forced him to divert soldiers from all over Ethiopia to Tigray. As a result, ethnic clashes that had already multiplied for months have only worsened.
In the latest episode, witnesses said men of the Gumuz ethnic group, armed with guns and swords, broke into the village of Daletti early on Tuesday. Photos taken in the aftermath of the attack, provided by local activists, showed the bloody bodies of women and children strewn on the ground, many with horrific injuries. They said that many of the victims were ethnic Amharas and Agaw, who are a minority in that region.
“A group of men from Gumuz came to our village chanting ‘leave our land’,” said Sebsibie Ibrahim, 36, a shop owner from Metekel district, speaking by phone. “They fired their guns and used swords to attack anyone they met – women, children, the elderly.”
In the chaos that followed, houses were set on fire and an old man was beheaded outside his house, Mr Sebsibie said. “Blood was flowing from his neck,” he said.
On December 22, Mr. Abiy took leave from the countryside in Tigray to visit Benishangul-Gumuz and ease tensions in the region. But a day later, gunmen attacked a village, killing at least 100 people, according to human rights groups.
Aaron Maasho, spokesperson for Ethiopia’s government-funded Human Rights Commission, which reported the killings on Wednesday, urged Abiy to deploy additional security forces to keep the peace in the troubled region.
“For the umpteenth time, we call on the federal and regional authorities to strengthen security in Metekel,” he said, referring to the district of Benishangul-Gumuz where the killings took place.
Mr. Abiy’s decision to open up Ethiopian politics after coming to power in 2018, freeing political prisoners and allowing the return of exiles, has been widely welcomed. But it also sparked simmering ethnic tensions.
Benishangul-Gumuz, for example, is home to five major ethnic groups, mainly Berta and Gumuz peoples. But the region is also home to Amharas, Oromos, Tigrayans and Agaws minorities – a source of growing tension.
Billene Seyoum, spokesperson for Prime Minister Abiy, did not answer questions about the violence.
Dessalegn Chanie, an Amhara opposition politician, said there had been signs in recent days that armed men from the Oromo and Gumuz ethnic groups were planning an attack, especially in areas where there were few. federal security.
“These attacks were premeditated and highly prepared,” he said.
Although Mr. Abiy declared victory in Tigray last month, UN officials say the fight continues.
Ethiopia on Wednesday said its military killed three senior officials of Tigray’s former ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front, including Seyoum Mesfin, a former Ethiopian foreign minister.