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Analysis: Amid renewed violence and conflicting accounts army places Oromo Special, South Wollo & North Shewa zones of Amhara region under command post

Scenes of destruction from Ataye. Picture: Enyew Bihonegn

By Bileh Jelan @BilehJelan

Siyanne Mekonnen @Siyaanne

Addis Abeba, April 19, 2021 – Despite previous eye witnesses and families of victims accounts and statements by the Oromia Regional state chapter of the ruling Prosperity Party, Oromia Prosperity Party (OPP) disputing the presence of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) often referred by the government as ‘OLF/Shene’, the Amhara regional state and its chapter of the ruling party, Amhara Prosperity Party (APP) have repeatedly blamed the attacks on the OLA. According to Amhara Media Cooperation (AMC), violence broke out on Wednesday evening. Quoting the head of Efrata Gidim woreda, Demisew Meshesha, AMC reported that violence broke out in Ataye after a house was burned down. Demisew said that there were tensions in surrounding areas but calm has returned after the deployment of federal and regional security forces. However, the violence escalated over the following days causing property destruction and driving people out of Ataye to neighboring towns.  

Residents of Shewa Robit who AMC spoke to said that the violence spread to the neighboring town, Shewa Robit over the weekend. The residents said that they are being attacked by an armed group in civilian clothing. “We are defending ourselves because our attackers are well organized.” the residents said, adding “They came and attacked us after federal forces passed by the town.” The residents also told AMC that the recurring violence has been claiming lives and causing property destruction for the last two years. The residents say that this round of violence is unusually intense and has caused the people to flee to neighboring towns. “Electricity was cut off and food products were set ablaze.” they said and pleaded for the deployment of security forces. Taddese Gebretsadik, the administrator of North Showa zone told AMC that that conflict that started in Ataye later spread to Majete, Alala Negeso, Jawuha and Showa Robit. He spoke of massive property destruction and loss of lives but did not specify numbers. Tadesse also spoke of rehabilitating and supporting those who lost property in the violence.

The head of the Amhara Regional State Peace and Public Security Bureau, Sisay Damte told the state’s broadcaster that Amhara special Forces and the National Defense Force are working together to ‘wipe away’ the extremist group. More security forces were deployed on Friday, April 16, 2021, according to him and security forces have regained control of Ataye. Sisay also spoke of efforts that are underway to repatriate the displaced people who fled to the nearby town, Debre Sina. The security head called on the community to organize itself and help local militia by providing them with information. He also spoke of  attempts to release prisoners from a federal correctional center in Shewa Robit. Sisay correlated the violence in areas bordering the Oromo Zone and North Shewa zone to recent attacks in Oromia regional state. He described the situation in Showa Robit as an “active war” and explained that areas such as Antsokia, Karakore and Senbete are affected by the ongoing violence as well.   

The Federal Ministry of Defense yesterday announced the establishment of a command post that encompasses three zones; North Shewa, South Wollo and Oromo Special Zones. The command post has imposed two restrictions that includes the prohibition of carrying arms in certain areas, closure of roads and the burning of churches, houses and government institutions. The ministry of defense called on the community to stand by the security forces and restore peace to the areas. In the statement the ministry warned that it would take measures on political parties, government structures or groups that violate the above restrictions and further restrictions that would be imposed by the command post. 

In continuation of its coverage of the conflict, Addis Standard spoke to witnesses in both Ataye and Shewa Robit where violence has been reported to take place over last week. Endalik, a resident of Shewa Robit town who asked to be referred by his first name for security reasons, spoke to Addis Standard about the recent violence said, “There was fighting between Oromo and Amhara communities in Shewa Robit three days ago and while I can’t exactly tell you how many people died or were injured the number is high from both sides.” He added, “Due to the seriousness of the situation the Federal Army and Police arrived in the city yesterday and now relative peace has been restored.” When asked if he believed OLA was operating in the area, he said, “It is a strong believe among the Amhara residents of the city, it is also what the regional government is propagating but you have to understand this the assailants have modern weapons and the Amhara regional state have repeatedly complained that OLF/Shene was building a base around Kemise and recruiting youth there.” 

“The injured lay in Senbete town health center and are dying because roads to big cities like Dessie … Addis Abeba … are closed.”

Boruu Gobanna, witness .

Boruu Gobanna, a displaced resident of Ataye town also spoke to Addis Standard gave testimony that was similar to Endalik’s testimony in terms of timing of the start of the new rounds of violence. Boruu said, “Three days ago mobs backed by Amhara Special Forces attacked unarmed and unprotected Oromo civilians again. Over 11 people were killed, 19 injured, 40 families displaced as a result of their houses being burnt and a private clinic owned by an Oromo businessman was burned down ” 

Boruu explained to Addis Standard a predicament that the displaced and injured encounter, he said, “The injured lay in Senbete town health center and are dying because roads to big cities like Dessie go through Shewa Robit where violence is ongoing and after a recent incident where the injured were dragged out of ambulances and attacked by a mob under the watch of the regional special forces, families are afraid to send their loved ones through Shewa Robit to Dessie,” he continued, “Roads to Oromia regional state and Addis Abeba ‘Finfinne’ are closed and the displaced who want a way out of the zones are trapped with danger looming.” 

This comes in the backdrop of serious episodes of violence that first broke out in North Shewa and Oromo Special Zones of Amhara Regional State on March 19, 2021, when an Imam was shot in the doorsteps of his mosque in Ataye, North Shewa Zone, the violence quickly spread out to neighboring towns both in North Shewa and Oromo Special zones reaching the administrative center of Oromo Special Zone, Kemise and claiming an unknown number of civilian casualties. The violence also according to a Bati Woreda official saw the intervention of Afar Special Forces expanding the number of actors involved in the violence and saw Amhara and Oromia regional states chapter of Prosperity Party(PP) engage in a war of words, offering no solutions or accountability for the violence.  

Earlier this month, the Ethiopian Institution of Ombudsman (EIO) although not pinpointing the group behind the violence acknowledged in a statement failure on the part of the Amhara regional government in managing the conflict in Oromo Special and North Shewa Zones of the region, it read, “The situation worsened due to the removal of the security apparatus from the area and failure to arrive to the aid of civilians on time when called upon.” The statement also disclosed that according to investigations carried out by the respective office, “303 people were killed, 369 injured, 1,539 houses were torched and based on the information we received from the administrations of the two zones over 50,000 people have been displaced. Provisions of aid is ongoing and is relatively better in North Shewa Zone than Oromo Special Zone and yet still the provision in both zones is not satisfactory.” The statement also explained that the efforts made by the regional government were not effective and recommended that stricter measures should be applied to uphold the rule of law in a timely manner.

Despite the absence of an independent investigation into the incidents and lack of data on the number of casualties, injured and property destruction; the Amhara Scholars Council (ASC), the National Movement of AMhara (NAMA) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) classified the violence in North Showa and Oromo Special Zone as ethnically motivated attacks. In a rather strong worded statement, NAMA went as far as accusing Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of being a complicit in what they described as ‘state sponsored terrorism’ that resulted in genocide against Amharas.

Addis Standard was not able to contact the administrator of North Shewa zone, however, repeated attempts to reach the administrator of Oromo special zone were not successful. Addis Standard also contacted Amhara regional state communication bureau who declined to provide comments. AS

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