By Addis Standard Staff
Addis Ababa – Residents of East Hararghe and West Hararghe in eastern Oromia who spoke with Addis Standard say communities are reeling from a fresh wave of conscription of the youth into the military, mass arrest, the snatching young people at checkpoints, and hunting young men and women door to door.
However, officials of the Zonal police and local administration who spoke with Addis Standard denied the accusations.
The information comes in the backdrop of multiple armed conflicts between the federal and regional government security forces and various armed groups in different parts of the country most notably in Oromia regional state as well as regions such as Benishangul Gumuz and Gambella that are ongoing in the shadow of the 21-months war which started in Tigray, and little attention from the mainstream independent media.
Following last year’s call by the federal government on citizens to join the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), eye witnesses and opposition parties have decried widespread forced conscription.in various places. However, the federal government repeatedly maintained that thousands of youth have joined the ENDF voluntarily.
In Borana, in southern Oromia, Addis Standard has reported the plight of thousands aggravated by conscription, forced contributions to the army and crackdown on suspected OLA supporters.
A year later, residents of East and West Hararghe Zones of the Oromia regional state who spoke to Addis Standard on conditions of anonymity for fear of reprisal recount a similar story.
Biniam (name changed for the safety reasons) is a resident of Harar, said he has witnessed multiple incidents of security forces forcing youth including under-age children to join the military. He claims forced conscription includes children as young as 13 years old.
“They have abducted some school children. Fathers are watchful of their kids; they are afraid to send children to school alone”‘Biniam’
“The children are being abducted. The majority of the children being abducted are members of the Oromo community. Some are also members of communities from Southern Nations, Nationalities and People;s regional state. They [security forces] break into houses and abduct children. They pick them, throw them on trucks and drive them to police stations and concentration camps. The majority of the victims are daily laborer children aged between 13 to 15,” Biniam explained.
Biniam also says people who want their loved ones back have to pay a ransom. “The government forces detain children and youth and request a ransom. For instance, they detained the husband of a woman who delivered a baby just two months before his detention, and requested the wife [to pay] 20,000 Ethiopian Birr for his return.” The security forces recruit the detainees as soldiers if the families of the detainee fail to pay the amount of money requested as ransom, according to Biniam.
Even though the focus is on daily laborers, it did not spare schoolchildren, “They have started hunting for school children. They have abducted some school children. Fathers are watchful of their kids; they are afraid to send children to school alone. They are taking their kids to school and waiting at the gate of the school to take them back home. Families are resenting it and are disappointed by this action,” Biniam added.
“The security forces are operating to maintain stability and apprehend forces of destruction”Ferid Yishak
Ferid Yishak, the communications department head of West Hararghe Zone admitted setting up checkpoints and searches that are intended to maintain peace. But he told Addis Standard that “the security forces are operating to maintain stability and apprehend forces of destruction.” Ferid denied the allegations of forced conscription and unlawful detention, but admitted “security forces have captured scores of intruders who were attempting to destabilize the area.”
But other residents in the area corroborate Beniam’s account. Henok (name changed) is one such resident of Kombolcha district in East Hararghe Zone of Oromia, who spoke to Addis Standard on conditions of anonymity says: “for example, there are seven checkpoints in the small town of Ejersa Rafu alone. They [security forces] stop residents at every checkpoint and capture some of the people by creating false allegations, and take them to the concentration camps. There are few lucky detainees who have managed to escape captivity by jumping over the fence. However, the majority is still in detention. Some families of the detainees do not know the whereabouts of their children as they have been denied the right to visit them,” Henok says.
According to him, sometimes the detention follows a tip from the militia and irregular armed militants(also known as Gaachana Sirnaa). “The militia were selected from the community. They give tips to the security forces, and the security forces will come and arrest them without sufficient evidence. The people of the area are in a difficult situation whereby they were devoid of their rights. They are tired of false allegations. We have voiced our grievances to the administration, but no one listens to us.”
“…there are seven checkpoints in the small town of Ejersa Rafu alone. They [security forces] stop residents at every checkpoint and capture some of the people by creating false allegations”‘Henok’
Henok also recounts moments of detentions as violent and aggressive. “The security forces will never explain why someone is being detained. They grab and throw them into a vehicle. They will kick, beat and capture those who attempt to defend themselves. They also intimidate victims’ families if they attempt to look for the whereabouts of the children”.
A third eyewitness who is a resident of Fedis district in West Haraghe zone, says mass arrest and forced recruitment are common in the area. “We are aware that at least 600 children and youth are in detention centers in our district. The families of the detainees know little about their children. We have heard that the detainees are being recruited as soldiers to fight the battle between [TPLF] and the government. For instance, there is a family who learned that their son who was abducted by these security forces died in the fighting. We have never experienced such a tragedy. The worst thing is the detainees are neither well trained nor informed”.
But Wendwesson Debebe, Commander of the Police in West Hararghe Zone denied such accusations in an interview with Addis Standard. He says that the security forces will never commit such crimes and such allegations of forced conscription and asking for ransom are intentionally designed to defame the security forces.
On 06 October, the Communications office of East Hararghe zone claimed, in a Facebook post that the youth have voluntarily joined the “fifth round of military training to fight and liberate their country and to secure citizen’s right to safety and security.”AS