More than 100 people were killed in an attack by armed men in western Ethiopia on Wednesday, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reported.
The massacre occurred from 4 a.m. local time (1 a.m. GMT) until noon in several locations in the Meketel area of the Benishangul-Gumuz region, just one day after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited the region and addressed the issue of ethnic violence.
In a statement, the Commission noted that 36 people were seriously injured, mostly as a result of gunfire, and are being treated at a hospital.
In addition, “houses were set on fire” and fields were burned, said the EHRC, an independent human rights institution.
“The police and defense forces assigned to the protection of this area were not present during the attack,” the Commission stressed, indicating that these troops were mobilized to reinforce security during the visit of the delegation from Abiy.
“It is not clear to the Commission why all the security personnel received instructions to withdraw from the area in the name of protecting the security of the visiting authorities,” the communiqué said, adding that communities of the Amhara, Shinasha and Oromo ethnicities, among others, live in the area.
Official sources in that region had previously suggested that the killing might be aimed at members of the Amhara ethnic group, although the Commission did not take a position on the matter.
And survivors of the attacks who spoke with the media agency in the neighboring Amhara region assured that the attacks were identity-based and were attacks against the Amhara people.
Civilians were the target of the attack, which lasted several hours and in which more than 90 people were killed, houses were set on fire and hundreds were displaced, a witness told the local newspaper Addis Standard on condition of anonymity.
The bodies are lying in the street and on the farms,” said Admasu Kebede, a resident of Bekuji Kebele, who said he was not sure of the number of dead because not all the bodies have been recovered.
Tesfahun Amogne, another witness, told the newspaper that he woke up with gunshots at dawn. “Soon we were surrounded by as many as 500 armed men. Some of us ran for our lives, while others were killed,” he explained, adding that the police were “repeatedly” warned, but they were late.
The authorities have not clarified, for the moment, the authorship of the attacks, but the official Benishangul-Gumuz Prosperity Party condemned in a statement “the atrocities committed against our civilians by armed bandits.
The Amhara, the second most populous ethnic group in Ethiopia, have been the target of past attacks in the region.
On November 1, at least 54 people were killed in an attack that authorities attributed to the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) armed group, according to Amnesty International (AI).
The attack occurred in the Wollega area of the Oromia region, home to the country’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, and where Addis Ababa is located.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission indicated that the attackers targeted residents of the Amhara ethnic group.
Since coming to power in 2018, Abiy, 44 years old and Oromo, has promoted important reforms in Ethiopia, the second most populated country in Africa, such as amnesty for thousands of political prisoners, legalization of opposition parties and commitment to hold elections.
But the president has been criticized for not solving some of the root problems, such as the ethnic tensions that have caused waves of violence and have made Ethiopia one of the countries with the most displaced people in the world.
Recently, Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, has also been criticized for launching last month an armed offensive against the rebel authorities in the northern region of Tigray, which has caused hundreds of deaths and the flight of more than 52,000 people to neighboring Sudan.