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Analysis: Uneasy calm returns in Jinka, environs; more than 130 detained after days of unrest leaves trail of displacement, property destruction

Jinka is the capital city of South Omo zone in SNNPRS. Picture: Zonal administration

By Etenesh Abera @Eteneshab

Addis Abeba – After a week-long unrest left unknown numbers of displacement and damage to several properties in various places including in and around Jinka city, the capital of South Omo zone in Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Regional State (SNNPR), the regional Police Commission Commissioner, Alemayehu Mamo, said that more than 133 individuals, including four local police officers, were arrested in connection with the unrest. The commissioner further said that among the detained include those who participated in the unrest and “those within the local administration structure and social media influencers who call themselves as community representatives.”

The local police said one person was also killed particularly during the unrest over the past weekend. However, a source from the area who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal told Addis Standard by phone that the number of people who were killed was “five.”

Request for zonal status

The Ari community, in South Omo zone, has been pushing for increased self-administration in a form of a separate zonal status for Ari Woreda and increased infrastructure including roads, hospitals and schools for the local community. Melaku Lemma, communications bureau head of South Omo zone, confirmed to Addis Standard by phone that the start of the unrest was related to the question of the zonal structure requested by the Ari people. “Four Ari woredas within the South Omo zone brought forward a question of zonal structure after they had gained approval to their appeal at thier respective councils three months ago, Melaku said. In the last zonal council meeting held recently, the agenda was expected to be approved by the South Omo zone council and proceed to the next level. But because of the ongoing new structural adjustments, “the agenda was not tabled which created unrest in the society,” Melaku said.

The Council has apologized and promised to make the request its agenda item for subsequent meeting.

According to the source who spoke with Addis Standard, the question of the Ari community is not just about the zonal structure alone but included request for adequate political representation of the Ari people, since the community is the largest group of the 16 different nationalities within the South Omo zone.

“After the zonal council failed to floor the agenda, the dispute started.’’

Melaku Lemma

As for Melaku, the question of the zonal structure was unanswered because the region (SNNPR) is working on new zonal and woreda structures after the two new administrative zones, Sidama and South West Ethiopia Peoples’ region, were created at regional state levels.

The question for a zonal structure will be answered by the regional council; what is expected from the zonal council is a mere approval the the Ari woreda’s council appeal, according to Melaku. “After the zonal council failed to floor the agenda, the dispute started.’’ Melaku added that, the apology from the council to the Ari community was due to the failure to address the request as was promised.

“The tension between the Ari community and other groups intensified after a peace rally was held in Jinka by members of Sheken

A resident of Jinka

The unrest

The apology was also communicated to a local youth group called “Sheken” that is actively organizing and pushing for the requests of the Ari community to be approved. However, tension kept growing between the “Sheken” group and others opposing the push by Ari community. As a result, unrest that lasted for three consecutive days over the weekend resulted in property damage including burning of shops, residential quarter and local government offices in cities and towns in South Omo zone, including the capital Jinka, Gazer, Tolta, and Matser, among others.

unrest over the weekend in South Omo zone left several damaged properties in its wake. Picture: social Media

“The tension between the Ari community and other groups intensified after a peace rally was held in Jinka by members of “Sheken”, the source told Addis Standard. A large group youth opposing the “Sheken’ group “encircled the house of a young and popular Ari personality at night,” he said. The person, whose name the source didn’t want to disclose, was unharmed, but the youth were angry that local security forces failed to prevent the intimidation. “Ari community members asked for justice and accountability in regards to this figure and afterwards a serious unrest followed, manifested by the burning of houses,” he said. “There is an ongoing mass arrest of Ari community members which has continued as of last night.”

More than 40 households are estimated to have been displaced after their houses were burned down.

“Days after the zonal administration’s apology to the public, there were exchanges of gunfire between government security forces and those who were asking for the zonal administration structure,’’ Melaku said. “On Saturday 09 April evening there were huge gunfire, and residences and shops were burned and looted,” Melaku said. The unrest was particularly severe in the towns of Gazer, Tolta and Shisher, all found within the vicinity of the zonal capital, Jinka.

Since Sunday 10 April morning, members of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), regional police and special forces were deployed in key areas where unrest erupted, bringing a relative calm, Melaku added. Those who were displaced from the surrounding areas are returning back to their homes. A command post established to oversee the security forces’ operations has announced that as of Sunday it has banned motorbikes in the areas until further notice. AS

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