Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Picture: REUTERS/TIKSA NEGERI
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Picture: REUTERS/TIKSA NEGERI

Addis Ababa/Nairobi — At least 32 people were killed in an overnight attack in Ethiopia’s restive Oromia region, which the local government has blamed on militants seeking autonomy.

The November 1 raid, in the West Wellega Zone, was undertaken by members of the OLF Shane, a militant breakaway group of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), working with the support of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the Oromia regional government said.

A spokesperson for the OLF Shane didn’t respond to repeated phone calls seeking comment. The TPLF denied involvement. Getachew Reda, an executive member of the TPLF and former communications minister, said the accusation was “just a boilerplate statement from a cabal that has been orchestrating violence against innocent civilians to cling to power”.

The raid follows a spate of deadly attacks in Ethiopia, which have flared since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed began opening up the country’s once tightly regulated political space after coming to power in April 2018. His unbanning of opposition and rebel groups has stoked political fragmentation and long-suppressed rivalries among ethnic communities and calls for more regional autonomy.

“Official figures state a death toll of 32 civilians, but preliminary evidence obtained by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) indicates the number is very likely to exceed that tally,” the commission said in an e-mailed statement. The assailants, numbering as many as 60, targeted Amharas, the country’s second-largest ethnic group, the commission said.

Amnesty International put the death toll at 54 and also said the OLF was responsible for the attack, which “took place just a day after Ethiopian National Defence Force troops withdrew from the area unexpectedly and without explanation”.

Questions raised

“This senseless attack is the latest in a series of killings in the country in which members of ethnic minorities have been deliberately targeted,” the London-based human rights group said in an e-mailed statement. “That this horrendous incident occurred shortly after government troops abruptly withdrew from the area in unexplained circumstances raises questions that must be answered.”

Abiy denounced the attack on his Facebook account and said security forces had been deployed and “are taking action”, Abiy said. “The government will continue to work hard to ensure the safety of our people,” Abiy said in a statement on his Facebook page.

The attack is the latest in a “spate of massacres”, the EHRC said. About a dozen people were killed in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region, and several others were killed in Afar, it said.

Bloomberg

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