Witnesses describe ethnic attack in Ethiopia | Local News

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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Heavily armed men have appeared around the small farming village in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, scaring residents already nervous after recent clashes between government troops and rebels.

“The militants assured us that they would not touch us. They said they weren’t chasing us,” resident Nur Hussein Abdi told The Associated Press. “But in reality, they were surrounding our whole village for a murderous massacre. What happened the next day was a total bloodbath.

Abdi escaped by hiding on a rooftop, a horrified witness to one of Ethiopia’s worst massacres in recent years. Hundreds of people, mostly ethnic Amhara, were massacred in the village of Tole and surrounding areas on June 18 in the latest outbreak of ethnic violence in Africa’s second most populous country.

Several witnesses told the AP they were still discovering bodies, with some placed in mass graves containing dozens of people. The Amhara Association of America said it confirmed 503 civilian deaths. Ethiopian authorities have not released figures. A witness, Mohammed Kemal, said he saw 430 bodies buried, and more are still exposed and decomposing.

Kemal pleaded with the Ethiopian government to relocate the survivors, saying the gunmen had threatened to return.

“They killed infants, children, women and old people,” said resident Ahmed Kasim. The Amhara Association of America said the dead included a 100-year-old child and a month-old baby, and some people were killed at a mosque where they had tried to hide.

Residents and regional officials in Oromia have blamed the Oromo Liberation Army, an armed group that the Ethiopian government has declared a terrorist organization. An OLA spokesperson denied this, alleging that federal troops and regional militia attacked the villagers for their perceived support of the OLA as they retreated from an OLA offensive.

Again, Ethiopians wonder why the federal government has failed to shield them from the violent side of the country’s ethnic tensions — and why ethnic minorities in an identity-based federal system are left so vulnerable.

Teddy Afro, the famous Ethiopian pop star, released two songs this week highlighting the crisis that has worsened over the past four years and dedicating his songs to civilians who have lost their lives.

“It’s never an option to be silent when a mountain of death comes before me,” goes one of his lyrics.

On Friday, thousands of students at the University of Gondar in neighboring Amhara region protested the killings and demanded justice.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said security forces had launched a military operation against the OLA, but many Ethiopians appear skeptical after seeing the murderous cycle play out in the past.

Oromia Region President Shimelis Abdisa acknowledged on Thursday that it will be difficult to organize security in every location, but said the ongoing operation “will cripple the enemy’s ability to move from place to place. ‘place to place’.

The Amhara ethnic group is Ethiopia’s second largest ethnic group, but they have found themselves under attack in some areas where they are a minority. Several dozen people have been killed in attacks in Benishangul Gumuz and Oromia regions in the past three years alone.

“Ethnic Amharas who live outside of their region have no legal and political representation, which provides no protection,” said Muluken Tesfaw, a community activist who tracks abuses against Amharas. “There have even been speeches from government officials in the Oromia region who seek to reduce the number of Amharic speakers.”

“An anti-Amhara narrative has been spreading for more than 50 years now,” said Belete Molla, chairman of the opposition NaMA party. “The Amharas living in Oromia and Benishangul are therefore targeted.” He also accused some members of the Oromia region’s ruling party of “working for or sympathizing with the Oromo Liberation Army”.

The latest mass killings have triggered international alarm. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, urged the Ethiopian authorities to carry out “swift, impartial and thorough” investigations. The US State Department has called on Ethiopians to “reject violence and seek peace”.

Ethiopia continues to struggle with ethnic tensions in several parts of the country and a deadly conflict in the northern Tigray region that has severely affected the once rapidly growing economy, but the prime minister is adamant that days better are to come.

“There is no doubt that Ethiopia is on the path to prosperity,” he said during a speech in parliament this month.

But the Ethiopians who escaped the latest attack are looking for answers.

Nur Hussein said he and other Tole villagers called nearby officials about the gunmen’s appearance shortly before the violence erupted. “Their response was mute. They said there were no specific threats to respond to. But look what happened,” he said. “God willing, we will overcome this. , but it’s a scar that will live with us forever.”

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