Hundreds of people, mostly ethnic Amhara, were slaughtered in a village and its surroundings this month in the latest explosion of ethnic violence in Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation.
Reports of the massacre surfaced over the weekend, as survivors described one of the deadliest such incidents for several years in Ethiopia. The suspected death toll in an attack by gunmen in Ethiopia’s western Oromia region has risen, with new witness testimony suggesting that between 260 and 320 civilians were killed on Saturday.
Residents and Oromia regional officials have blamed the Oromo Liberation Army, an armed group that Ethiopia’s government has declared a terrorist organization. An OLA spokesman denied it, alleging that federal troops and regional militia attacked the villagers for their perceived support of the OLA as they retreated from an OLA offensive.
The country’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has condemned what he described as “horrific acts” in Oromia, but has not given any details of the violence. “Attacks on innocent civilians and destruction of livelihoods by illegal and irregular forces is unacceptable,” Abiy said on Twitter on Monday, pledging “zero tolerance for horrific acts … by elements whose main objective is to terrorise communities.”
Ethnic Amhara are Ethiopia’s second-largest ethnic group but have found themselves under attack in some areas where they are in the minority. Several dozen were killed in attacks in the Benishangul Gumuz and Oromia regions over the past three years alone.
Oromia region has experienced unrest for many years, rooted in grievances about political marginalisation and neglect by the central government. Abiy is from the region, the first to be in charge of Ethiopia’s government, but some believe he has betrayed the community’s interests.
“Ethnic Amharas who live outside of their region do not have legal and political representation, which results in no protection,” said Muluken Tesfaw, a community activist who tracks abuses against the Amhara. “There were even speeches by Oromia region government officials that seek to reduce Amharic-speaking people.”
The latest mass killings brought international alarm. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has urged Ethiopian authorities to hold “prompt, impartial and through” investigations. The U.S. State Department called on Ethiopians to “reject violence and pursue 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 better days are ahead.