Ethiopia’s Human rights commission says armed men killed sleeping residents in fires and shootings in the western Benishangul-Gumuz region.
Gunmen have killed more than 100 people in an attack in western Ethiopia, the latest in a series of deadly assaults in the area.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), a government-affiliated but independent body, said in a statement late on Wednesday that “more than 100 people have been killed in fires and shooting perpetrated by armed men” in the Benishangul-Gumuz region.
The commission said survivors had “disturbing photo evidence of the attack” which started in the pre-dawn hours “on sleeping residents” in the region’s Metekel zone and continued until Wednesday afternoon.
At least 36 others were being treated for bullet and arrow wounds in a hospital in Bulen, about 90 kilometers from where the attack occurred, the commission said.
“In addition to the damage inflicted on people’s lives and bodies, crops have been set alight. One victim told us he saw 18 such fires,” the statement read.
There was “no police or security force” stationed in the area at the time, the commission said, though army personnel were sent to the area on December 22 to calm tensions but had left soon after.
Some of the victims of the attack said they knew their assailants, the commission said, adding that humanitarian should be sent to the region to assist the displaced and wounded.
Belay Wajera, a farmer in the western town of Bulen, told Reuters news agency he counted 82 dead bodies in a field near his home after Wednesday’s raid.
He and his family awoke to the sound of gunshots and ran out of their home as men shouted “catch them”, he said.
His wife and five of his children were shot dead, he was shot in the buttocks while four other children escaped and are now missing, Wajera told Reuters by phone late on Wednesday.
Tensions between Gumuz and Amhara people
Gashu Dugaz, a senior regional security official, said authorities were aware of the Benishangul-Gumuz attack and were verifying the identities of the attackers and the victims, but did not give further information.
The region is home to several ethnic groups including the Gumuz people. But in recent years farmers and businessmen from the neighbouring Amhara region have begun moving into the area, prompting some Gumuz to complain that fertile land has been taken.
በቤኒሻንጉል ክልል መተከል ውስጥ በዜጎች ላይ እየተፈጸመ ያለው ጭፍጨፋ እጅግ አሳዛኝ ሆኗል። በወገኖቻችን ላይ በተፈጸመው ኢሰብአዊ ተግባር በእጅጉ አዝኛለሁ። ችግሩን በተለያየ መንገድ ለመፍታት ያደረግነው ጥረት የሚፈለገውን ውጤት አላመጣም። 1/3
— Abiy Ahmed Ali
(@AbiyAhmedAli) December 24, 2020
Some Amhara leaders are now saying that some of the lands in the region – especially in the Metekel zone – rightfully belongs to them, claims that have angered Gumuz people.
“In previous attacks, it was people who came from ‘the forest’ who were involved but, in this case, victims said they knew the people involved in the attack,” the rights commission said in its statement.
Africa’s second-most populous nation has been grappling with regular outbreaks of deadly violence since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was appointed in 2018 and accelerated democratic reforms that loosened the state’s iron grip on regional rivalries.
Elections due next year have further inflamed simmering tensions over land, power, and resources.
In a separate part of the country, Ethiopia’s military has been fighting rebels in the northern Tigray region for over six weeks in a conflict that has displaced close to 950,000 people. The deployment of federal troops there has raised fears of a security vacuum in other restive regions.
Ethiopia is also fighting an insurgency in the Oromiya region and faces long-running security threats from Somali militants along its porous eastern border.