Over 50 civilians killed in Ethiopia attacks, rights agency says

More than 50 civilians were killed in attacks in Ethiopia last month, a human rights body said on Wednesday 6 December, barely two weeks after talks between the government and a rebel group from the country’s most populous region ended without agreement.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – an independent state-affiliated body – said fighters from the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) killed 17 people and burned down villages in Benishangul-Gumuz, which borders the Oromia region.

Classified as a “terrorist organisation” by Addis Ababa, OLA has been fighting the government since 2018 after splitting from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) when it renounced the armed struggle.

Unidentified assailants

The EHRC said another 30 people were killed in Oromia’s Arsi zone in a string of attacks by unidentified assailants, with victims including multiple members of the same family.

“It’s now known that the attackers killed the victims by lining them up after taking them out of their homes, while others were killed inside their homes,” the EHRC said in its report.

“Among the deceased are an infant baby, pregnant women and an 80-year-old elderly person … an unknown number of people who sustained injuries are currently receiving medical treatment.”

“In addition, nine members of the Hamo-Tokuma diocese of Lutheran church located in… Qellem Wollega zone, Oromia region, were killed by as of yet unidentified attackers on 25 November,” it said.

All the attacks took place between 23 and 29 November after talks in Tanzania to put an end to five years of insurrection ended on 21 November, with each side blaming the other for the breakdown.

‘Brutal’ attacks

On Saturday, local authorities in Oromia accused OLA of carrying out “horrendous and brutal” attacks against “many civilians” in the Arsi zone, without giving further details on when those assaults occurred.

The OLA’s strength, estimated at a few thousand men in 2018, has increased in recent years, though observers believe it is insufficiently organised or well-armed to pose a real threat to the government.

The Oromo ethnic group accounts for about a third of the 120 million inhabitants of Africa’s second most populous country.

The OLA has been accused by the government of orchestrating massacres, something the rebels deny. The authorities in turn are accused of waging an indiscriminate crackdown that has fuelled Oromo resentment.

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