By Etenesh Abera @EteneshAB &
Dereje Gonfa @DerejeGonfa
Addis Abeba – The ongoing violence in East Wollega and Horogudru zones in western Oromia continue driving thousands of people out of their homes, according to multiple accounts received by Addis Standard from the displaced residents of the two zones. The residents of the East Wollega zone fled their homes due to attacks by what they described as ‘armed groups’ belonging to local Amhara militia and complained that the local administration is forcing them to return to their villages before keeping the assailants at bay. Similarly, the residents of Abe Dengoro woreda in the Horo Gudru zone told Addis Standard that about 30 people including women and children were killed by ‘Amhara armed groups’ on the morning of Saturday, 12 February.
Horo Gudru zone
The offensive was carried out by the Amhara militia in Botoro Bora kebele of Abe Dengoro woreda on February 12, residents said. The attack that claimed the lives of 29 people was accompanied by looting and destruction of property where more than 64 houses were set ablaze. A resident of Abe Dengoro woreda who spoke to Addis Standard on conditions of anonymity said, “Amhara militia came together from Abe Dengoro woreda and Jargada Jarte woredas and mercilessly killed 20 people including women and children.”
According to the eyewitness, apart from those whose bodies were recovered, there are many people whose whereabouts are still unknown. “They also took several young girls and women by force”
The eyewitness explained that the armed group began to assemble to look for two of their members who they said went missing in Abe Dengoro woreda. “At dawn, before many of us rose from sleep they opened fire. They killed whoever was in shooting range. They burnt houses, many while people were in it. The rest of us ran for our lives,” he narrated.
According to the eyewitness, apart from those whose bodies were recovered, there are many people whose whereabouts are still unknown. “They also took several young girls and women by force,” he added.
Another resident of the woreda who is also a survivor of the attack said, “I woke up to gunshots, houses burning around me and people running for their lives. I immediately took my family and escaped.” He added, “My house was burnt with all of my belongings in it. They also stole 16 heads of cattle from me.”
The eyewitness explained that the majority of the victims were children, women, and the elderly. “We have buried 19 people and have since found 2 bodies,” he recalled, adding, “I heard that they found the heads of 9 people in other places.” The survivor who spoke to Addis Standard while he was in hiding said, “We plead that security forces come to our rescue. Even though our houses were burnt, we want our stolen properties to be returned so that we can go back to our village and at least live in tents. We want the culprits to be held.”
The residents said that neither the local administration nor security forces tried to address the violence leaving them in fear of imminent attacks as they sought refuge in adjacent kebeles.
Addis Standard’s attempts to speak to the administrator of Abe Dengoro woreda, Borisa Haile and the head of the woreda’s peace and security bureau, Adugna Waqoya were to no avail.
East Wollega zone
Earlier in January, the Oromia regional government said that over 128,000 people were displaced from Guto Gida woreda of the East Wollega zone by violence instigated by ‘an Amharic speaking radical armed group’. The violence allegedly perpetrated by this armed group has since spread over to more woredas in the East Wollega zone. Residents of Sibu Sire woreda and Limmu woreda in the zone spoke of widespread looting and torching of villages.
Khalifa, a father of seven fled his home in Dalo Kojimma kebele of Sibu Sire Woreda about three months ago. Khalifa said that his attackers were ‘Amharic-speaking’ armed groups. “We were beaten, our houses were burnt,” he said, adding, “We had to leave and seek refuge in nearby towns.” However, the host community was unable to provide enough food and assistance. Khalifa underlined the lack of coordinated response to the displaced people who according to him are spread across several towns in Sibu Sire woreda.
Ibrahim is another victim who fled violence in Sibu Sire Woreda. He is currently residing in the Harerge zone over 700 kilometers away from his hometown. Ibrahim told Addis Standard via phone that the local administration was forcing them to return back to their village without solving the security issues. According to Ibrahim armed conflict is ongoing between the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and armed Amhara community members. “How can we return back while the violence is ongoing?” he asks.
Both victims of the ongoing violence estimate that more than 14,000 people were displaced from Sibu Sire woreda alone. The local administration and security personnel are forcing displaced people where there is active armed combat according to Ibrahim and Khalifa. “We were told to protect ourselves with the traditional armaments we have at hand,” said Khalifa. The zonal and woreda administration were not available for comments.
Limmu woreda, another woreda in the East Wollega zone witnessed alleged attacks perpetrated by militias who were described by residents as “Amharic speaking”. A resident who spoke to Addis Standard on conditions of anonymity for fear of reprisal said, ’’ On the early morning of January 24, militants who speak Amharic launched an attack on our village.” The residents testified that the assailants looted properties and burned down houses, some while the residents were in it. “We escaped to a nearby forest. We heard that more than 50 people were killed in the fire and others were gunned down,” the eyewitness said. He put forward his guess that the gunmen are from a place called Anedode Dicha in the neighboring woreda of Gida Ayana.
Like the IDPs from Sibu Sire woreda, Limmu woreda residents whose houses were burned to ashes with their loved ones in it complain of negligence by the local administration. The resident of Limmu woreda said, “I lost three of my children. We are hiding in the woods and have nowhere to go.” He recalled that the gunmen looted more than 30,000 heads of cattle.
“Innocent civilians were victims of the attacks. Farmers’ houses were torched, their properties were looted, they didn’t spare chicken when they robbed us,” he recounted. “ Everyone ran for their lives with the clothes on their backs.”
Another resident of Limmu woreda who spoke to Addis standard stated that a village called Fit Boqo was burned to the ground ‘entirely’. The eyewitness attests to the testimony of his counterparts in adjacent woredas attributing the onslaught to ‘Amharic speaking’ militants. The witness added that there aren’t any other armed groups in the area other than the said militias. Not even government security forces are found in that area according to him. “Innocent civilians were victims of the attacks. Farmers’ houses were torched, their properties were looted, they didn’t spare chicken when they robbed us,” he recounted. “ Everyone ran for their lives with the clothes on their backs.”
The IDPs are in immediate need of basic humanitarian assistance. “We need food. We are 30 to 40 kilometers away from urban settlements to even beg for food,” the Limmu woreda resident said.
Musetfa Kedir, Oromia Disaster Risk Management commission commissioner told Addis Standard that the zonal branch of their office is trying to reach the IDPs from Limmu and Sibu Sire woredas. “So far we sent more than 20,000 quintals of food supplies for the East Wollega zone. We also registered 12,000 IDPs from Limmu woreda and 15,000 from Sibu Sire woreda. He noted that the number could change as a result of the ongoing violence. Mustefa revealed that there are some places still inaccessible for aid delivery because of persisting security concerns.
The commissioner declined to comment on the issue of forced return of IDPs in Sibu Sire woreda amid security concerns. He stated that the zonal security bureaus are responsible for such issues. Addis Standard’s attempts to get information from the International Committee of the Red Cross Ethiopia country office were unsuccessful as well as East Wollega zone administration was unsuccessful.
In August last year, Addis Standard’s investigation into the violence in the East Wollega zone indicated the involvement of Amhara militias. Addis Standard’s subsequent report in October quoted residents as saying that the attacks were carried out by Amhara militia who cross over into the Oromia region and entice violence by rallying up the Amhara community. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has since cautioned against communal violence in the same month noting that civilians were killed by residents who were said to be allowed to be armed in order to defend themselves. “These attacks alternated between both the Oromo and the Amhara communities as tensions and fears of communal violence is mounting between the two communities,” the commission said.
The East Wollega zone has been a scene of recurring communal violence that is often linked with clashes between the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and Amhara militias. Residents of the zone who spoke to Addis Standard after days-long communal violence in November said “Members of armed Amhara militia who organized themselves began to engage in armed combat with the OLA later opened fire on innocent civilians.”
In addition to Sibu Sire and Limu woredas, thousands of ethnic Oromos from Guto Gida, Kirmau, and several other woredas were internally displaced in the East Wollega zone over the last couple of months. In an interview with the regional state broadcaster, Alemayehu Tesfaye, the administrator of the zone said that 128,200 people were displaced from Guto Gida woreda alone. According to him, the displacement was due to violence instigated by ‘an armed Amhara radical group’, Benishangul Gumuz People’s Liberation Movement (BPLM), and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). Without identifying the radical Amhara group by name Alemayehu said, “There is also a radical Amharic speaking armed group who opens fire on Oromia region’s security forces and its residents.”