At least 80 people were killed Tuesday when unidentified gunmen stormed a village in western Ethiopia in the latest in a series of ethnic killings in the area, the Ethiopian Commission on Human Rights and Witnesses said on Wednesday.
The massacre in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, along the border with Sudan, is the latest challenge for Prime Minister Abi Ahmed’s regime, which came to power in 2018, promising to unite Ethiopia but struggling to contain a growing wave of ethnic violence.
The attacks further threaten the stability of Africa̵
Analysts say the Tigrei campaign has hampered Mr Abiy’s ability to stop clashes like the recent one in Benishangul-Gumuz by forcing him to divert troops from across Ethiopia to Tigrei. As a result, ethnic clashes, which have been escalating for months, have only worsened.
In the latest episode, witnesses said men from the Gumuz ethnic group, armed with rifles and swords, stormed the village of Daleti early Tuesday. Photos of the aftermath of the attack, provided by local activists, show bloodied bodies of women and children scattered on the ground, many with horrific wounds. They said many of the victims were ethnic Amharic and Agave, who are a minority in the region.
“A group of men from Gumuz came to our village chanting, ‘Leave our land,'” said Sebsibie Ibrahim, 36, a shop owner in the Metekel district, speaking on the phone. “They fired their weapons and used swords to attack anyone they came across – women, children, the elderly.”
In the ensuing chaos, the houses were set on fire and an elderly man was beheaded in front of his house, Mr Sebsibie said. “Blood was flowing from his neck,” he said.
On December 22, Mr. Abiy took time to wait for the campaign in Tigrei to visit Benishangul-Gumuz and calm tensions in the area. But a day later, armed men attacked the village, leaving at least 100 people dead, according to human rights groups.
Aaron Maasho, a spokesman for the government-funded Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, which reported on Wednesday’s killings, called on Mr Abi to deploy additional security forces to keep the peace in the troubled region.
“Once again, we call on the federal and regional authorities to increase security in Metekel,” he said, referring to the Benishangul-Gumuz area where the killings took place.
Mr Abbey’s decision to open Ethiopian politics after coming to power in 2018, releasing political prisoners and allowing exiles to return, was widely welcomed. But it also unleashed sparkling ethnic tensions.
For example, Benishangul-Gumuz is home to five main ethnic groups, mostly the Bertha and Gumuz peoples. But the region is also home to the Amhari, Oromos, Tigrians and Agauz minorities, a source of escalating tensions.
Bilan Seyum, a spokesman for Prime Minister Abi, did not answer questions about the violence.
Desalenn Chani, an opposition politician from Amhara, said there had been signs in recent days that armed men from the Oromo and Gumuz ethnic groups were preparing an attack, especially in areas where federal security is not very high.
“These attacks were pre-planned and well-prepared,” he said.
Although Mr Abi announced victory in Tigre last month, UN officials say the fight continues.
Ethiopia said on Wednesday that its military had killed three senior members of Tigrei’s former ruling party, the People’s Front for the Liberation of Tigrei, including Seum Mesfin, a former Ethiopian foreign minister.