By Siyanne Mekonnen @Siyaanne &
Etenesh Abera @EteneshAb
Addis Abeba, September 16/2020 – Weeks long attacks carried out by yet undisclosed, heavily armed militiamen in various localities of Metekel zone, Benishangul Gumuz regional state, have left unknown numbers of civilian causalities and destruction of properties.
The attacks, particularly since the first week of September, have intensified and targeted civilian community members in Bulan Woreda, an area where Amhara, Shinasha, Gumuz and Agew ethnic community members reside.
Metekel zone Administrator Atinkut Shitu told Addis Standard that the perpetrators could be an organized group of members of opposition parties and discharged military officers. But he failed to identify the perpetrators and disputed the more than 150 numbers of casualties circulating on social media. According to him, about 300 people who have fled their homes following the recent attacks have already returned to their homes.
On September 14, he told Amhara Mass Media Agency that residents who fled the areas have received emergency aid.
Attacks by armed militiamen have become common occurrences in recent weeks while causalities included members of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) who are patrolling the vast areas of Metekel zone. On September 08, five members of ENDF and three members of the Benishangul Gumuz special police force were admitted to local hospital and later on referred to Pawe and Bahir Dar hospitals for injuries they have sustained after coming under attacks by armed men in two separate Woredas of Metekel zone. Healthcare workers told BBC Amharic that they have seen two bodies of security forces in a local hospital.
According to three residents of Bulan Woreda who spoke to Addis Standard on conditions of anonymity or with only the first name for fear of their security, attackers are often armed with heavy machine guns. “Our worst fear now is that if the harvest is not collected on time those of us who survived from these attacks might die from hunger,” said Alemayehu, who wanted to be named by his first name only.
There are several social media posts claiming the targets are ethnic Amharas. Christian Tadelle of National Movement of Amhara (NaMA) said in a Twitter post yesterday that “#AmharaGenocide in Metekel: 89 brutally massacred and their bodies denied proper burials/left on the fields; 20+ wounded and yet to receive medications and 80+ missed.”
But Nemera Maru, Chief Administrator of Bulan Woreda, refrained from mentioning victims’ background and only said that an estimated number of 70-100 militants have attacked civilians in three Kebeles of Bulan Woreda alone. Deputy Head of Amhara Regional State Peace and Public Security Bureau Gedebe Hailu also told the regional broadcaster that the violence was not between various ethnic community members and that Amhara Regional Government forces were assisting Beneshagul Regional police and the national defense forces to restore peace and stability and rehabilitate the victims. Gedebu explained that it was still too early to disclose the casualties since the people who were taught to be dead were returning to their homes.
The ENDF western Command has released a statement today in which it admitted the attacks on civilians on September 04 and 05 in Bulan Worea, Epara Kebele, Moji and Koshebonji localities. According to the Command, ENDF members are now in charge of the security in the area as of September 06 upon the invitation of Benishangul Gumuz regional state. However, the statement admitted that ENDF forces have secured the release of 27 civilians kidnapped by armed men and that its members were arresting those responsible for the attacks in Bulen, Wenbera, Guba, Dibati, Dangur and Mandura Woredas. But Chief of Security of Benishangul Regional State, Abera Bayata, said the number of freed civilians who were kidnapped by the armed men was 36; the perpetrators often accuse the civilians of supporting the government and release them later on after taking thousands of birr as ransom from each victim, he said.
The ENDF Western Command claims that after coordinated efforts together with regional security forces, relative calm has returned to the areas; but its statement has no mention of ENDF causalities.
On August 13, the administrator of Metekel Zone, Atinkut Shitu, told Deutsche Welle Amharic that eight members of “government security forces” were killed and 5 were injured following an ambush on a military vehicle on August 09 in Guba wereda; around 20 people were also killed in the attacks. Atinkut said security forces have arrested the suspected assailants along with their firearms and were preparing to press charges. Tow kebeles in Guba wereda where the attacks occurred were returning to relative stability after members of ENDF were deployed to the areas a day after the attacks, Atinkut said.
However, the latest attacks took place after his interview. Community members and government officials from the areas told Deutsche Welle Amharic today that unidentified gunmen have been attacking residents of Bulan and Wenbera woreda in the last few weeks. A resident of Gilgel Beles who did not want to be named for security reasons said that the assailants were armed with heavy weapons capable of destroying buildings and that they were “committing crimes against humanity.” He explained that most of these attacks were carried out during daytime. But it has been difficult for security forces to control and arrest the militants because they ambush them from multiple directions, according to the eye witness, who also hinted that the militants might have contact with government forces. He cites the reason is because the militants flee the area right before security forces start moving in their direction hinting that someone from the inside may tip them off.
Other regional authorities maintain assailants are robbers associated with political parties. Last week Benishangul Gumuz Regional State’s Police deputy commissioner, Commander Nega Jarra admitted that the assailants have committed robbery and have confiscated firearms from security forces in Melka kebele of Wenbera Woreda. Some among the suspects have fled to neighboring Woredas. They have also tried to kidnap healthcare and agricultural extension workers and have tried to take down the administrative structures. Commander Nega hinted that members of a political party whose name he didn’t want to mention were behind the attacks. This group, who he called “counteragents of peace” have connections with foreign agents and are recruiting young people for membership, he claimed. But Because of the limited telecommunication network access in the area, obtaining information from security personnel in the area has been difficult, he said. AS