By Getahun Tsegaye @GetahunTsegay12
Addis Abeba – Civilians in areas bordering the Oromo Special zone and North Shewa zone of the Amhara regional state have once again came to bear the brunt of yet another round of violence which started on 10 July and lasted for days before a semblance of calm returned this week.
“Relative peace has now prevailed in the areas where the conflict took place between Jiillee Dhummuugaa and Efrata and Gidim woredas of Amhara region,” Jiillee Dhummuugaa Woreda Administrator, Ahmed Mohammed, told Addis Standard.
But his statement was made after more than a dozen, 17 civilians, by local authorities count, were killed in the wake of the violence; many are also injured and several dozens are displaced and along with severe property damages, including burning of residential quarters.
This week, Woreda, zonal and regional leaders, in collaboration with elders and religious leaders, are holding community discussions with local residents at various levels, scrambling to restore peace to an area frequently hit by violence.
What do residents and officials say?
Several local media were quick to blame the violence on the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) fighters. But in the course of this reporting, the statements published by the local administration of Jiillee Dhummuugaa (Jille Timuga) in the Oromo Special Zone, and the North Shewa weredas have avoided pointing fingers at the OLA armed group, instead blaming it on those they said have “Shene’s thinking” and vowing to take measures. But a statement of Jiillee Dhummuugaa woreda, which was shared by North Shewa Woreda was later on deleted.
Addis Standard reached out to the residents of both Woredas by phone. According to a resident from Jiillee Dhummuugaa who spoke on conditions of anonymity for security reasons, the latest violence erupted when some residents of the Efrata Gidim district of North Shawa zone crossed over and attempted to take herds of cattle. “The conflict initially involved local residents from both sides. Later, the Amhara Special Force, Fano and Amhara militia got involved, supporting Efrata Gidim district residents.”
According to the source, more than ten people have died, and many were wounded. “We can’t bring our wounded to health facilities for treatment because the next best hospital facility is in Shewa Robit, where our wounded people were killed last year. Now twelve people with wounds are lying in Batte hospital where they are not getting proper treatment.”
Similarly, another resident in Senbete town who wanted to be identified as Abdu, on the other hand, said that the conflict erupted at the border of Zembo [a kebele under Efrata and Gidim woreda] and Bette town [a town within Jiillee Dhummuugaa woreda] when farmers from neighboring villages attempted to rustle herds of cattle. Describing the scene, he said that when the Oromo farmers tried to stop the rustlers, the conflict started. “16 Oromo farmers were killed as a result of the conflict,” he says.
Shewaye Feru, a resident in Efrata and Gidim Woreda of Zembo kebele where the conflict started, spoke Addis Standard over the phone. Shewaye recalled: “We the residents of Arso Amba farmers are bordering with Oromo farmers in Bette town at a place called Gebeya Ber and Ali Guba where we both share farmlands,” Shwaye said, adding, “an Amhara farmer who has a farmland in the area called Hayma, was spraying a pesticide, for which his neighbors accused him of doing it intentionally to kill their cattle. Then, they started a heated argument which escalated when the Oromos started chopping crops in retaliation.”
According to him the violence started on Sunday 10 July afternoon. Shewaye says that nearly 30 security forces have died – 21 members of Amhara Special Forces and seven Amhara militias, while dozens were injured. He further said, “Wajena and Berha Sillasie kebeles were partially burned down. Properties, foods and cattle were set on fire,” he said, “thousands of residents were displaced and our crops were destroyed.”
Shewaye says security forces were deployed in the area, but civilians don’t feel safe to take care of their farmlands nor to live. “Despite the deployment, there hasn’t been a tangible solution nor any help from the government,” he blamed officials for failing to restore stability in the area.
A resident in Efrata & Gidim woreda of Ataye town who wanted to go by the name Tekanew blames “some Oromos” who he said were “from the Bette area”. According to his account, they “deliberately grazed cattle on Amara crops. Then the Amharas got angry and took the cattle. That’s how the conflict erupted.”
Ahmed, the Administrator of Jiillee Dhummuugaa Woreda, admitted the latest violence was “terrible” and had spread to several neighboring areas. “Human lives were lost, many people were injured, and properties were damaged.”
Chirotaw Basazin, Efrata and Gidim Woreda Administrator, in his part, told Addis Standard that “the conflict started on July 10 when the Amhara farmers tried to evacuate cattle from their farm lands,” he said, “the cattle were from Jiillee Dhummuugaa. While our farmers were evacuating the cattle, the war was launched from their back.”
The administrator further said: “The conflict over evacuation of the cattle is an immediate cause. There is an underlying problem. The process and the movement of the war is operated in an organized manner and its nature is deep and vast. We’re still investigating the details which we will disclose in the near future by higher officials.”
Speaking about the current situation, Chirotaw stated that since Tuesday 12 July afternoon the violence has subsided following the deployment of security forces.
The local administration of both woredas say they are now engaged in conducting peace talks with the local communities in Bette and Senbete towns; “a relative peace has now prevailed,” Ahmed further said. Local authorities were also lifting some of the curfew imposed in Jiillee Dhummuugaa, including the curfew on movements of the three-wheel Bajajs at night. “The farmers have started farming,” he said.
In an interview with VOA Amharic, Jemal Hassen, head of Oromia zone of Amhara Region communication bureau stated that both the North Shewa and Oromo Special zones will jointly disclose the root cause of the latest violence. “The conflict started after the releasing of the cattle on the crops. Parties from both sides that have distorted views have aggravated the situation to unwanted direction.”
North Shewa Zone Communication Office Head, Mohammed Ahmed, in his part, said that such violence has a track record of recurrences and it is not just a mere conflict in connection with “cattle and pasture”. “It is rather beyond that. We’ll not keep listing such reasons any longer.”
“On Sunday 10 July afternoon when the conflict erupted in connection with cattle and pasture, the leaders from the two zones, elders and religious leaders were able to stop it, but why did it relapse the following day?” he asked.
In a statement it released, Jiillee Dhummuugaa Communication Bureau, admitted that security forces and farmers were killed and injured; civilians and properties were also damaged, resulting in instability. “The conflict between the border areas of the two neighboring districts is an evil act that does not represent the Amhara and Oromo people by any standard,” the Woreda said and condemned the act. “The Amhara and Oromo peoples are the largest nations of Ethiopia, who share a history of transcendental solidarity and are bound by social interaction and blood,” it added.
The statement, which was later on shared by the North Showa zone administration, also blamed “extremists” whom it described as “emissaries” who have “Shene’s thinking” for using the violence as an opportunity to dismantle the togetherness of the two nations. The administration of Jiillee Dhummuugaa woreda subsequently imposed a curfew suspending the movement of a three-wheel bajaj, and prohibiting possession of weapons other than government security units. It also disallowed the movement of residents from their village to another village without the knowledge of their respective command structure, threatening “necessary action” on anybody who does not abide by the provisions of the curfew.
Unlike the local media reports, however, the statement shared between the two woreda administrations did not blame fighters of the OLA for involvement in the violence.
Odaa Tarbii, OLA International Spokesperson, also denied the existence of active armed OLA forces in the areas and called for the immediate launch of independent investigations. “News of renewed violence against Oromos in Wollo by Amhara regional forces is alarming. The community has faced countless attacks by state forces since 2018. Civilians continue to bear the cost of the country’s political quagmire,” the spokesperson tweeted.
In subsequent announcements, the administrations of the two woredas vowed to continued community level discussions to avoid similar incidents.
“A thorough and deep discussion must be held with this woreda to alleviate further atrocities,” Ahmed of the Jiillee Dhummuugaa Woreda told Addis Standard.
Asked as to why such violence kept recurring despite the leaders of the two woredas routinely engaging in similar discussions, Ahmed said: “It is very true that the conflict has been recurrent. We have taken a lesson now that other than holding peace talks, we shall take very corrective measures against the proprietors and bring them to justice.”
While the damage is still being investigated, at least 17 people were killed and nearly 30 civilians were injured, he said. ”People lost their lives from both sides and it is heartbreaking. Hundreds of people could have died considering what ‘the enemies’ had planned. Efrata Gidim and Jiillee Dhummuugaa are the hub for [diverse groups], including the Oromo, Amhara, Afar and Argoba communities, which have created a conducive opportunity for the enemies to implement their evil agenda,” he said.
But Ahmed fell short of naming who “the enemies” were. “We have internal and external enemies who are spreading hate speech and preaching war to dismantle the two woredas,” he said, adding “these enemies are still beating their war drums and we will hold them accountable.”
Addis Standard asked Chirotaw, Efrata and Gidim Woreda administrator, to comment on the number of deaths and other casualties, and the extent of property damages. “Houses were burned down; people were also killed and wounded. An investigative committee is on the ground to inspect and we will issue a statement regarding the details of the investigation,” he asserted.
Initiatives to resolve the conflict
In a statement issued on July 15, Jiillee Dhummuugaa communication bureau stated that a discussion, where kebele leaders, elders, peace committee and concerned bodies were involved, was held in Awlal kebele to ensure lasting peace in Jiillee Dhummuugaa woreda and neighboring districts. It said the discussions were held with various stakeholders to resolve the dispute between the kebeles of Jiillee Dhummuugaa and the neighboring kebeles [including Efrata and Gidim].
Reiterating the importance of holding such peace talks, Ahmed, the administrator, also told Addis Standard that security forces have been deployed to the borders to monitor and to ensure the peace; he called on the local communities to collaborate with the security forces in bringing the perpetrators to justice.
However, in the latest news on VOA Amharic, Jemal Hassan, head of communication bureau of the Oromo Special zone, said that five members of the Jiillee Dhummuugaa woreda administration were suspended from their works accused of failing to avert the violence and fulfill their responsibilities.
Mohammed Sheik Aliyi is now the new administrator of the Woreda.
Efrata and Gidim is one of the woredas of North Shewa Zone in the Amhara Region of Ethiopia. It is bordered on the south by Kewet, on the southwest by Menz Mam Midir, on the west by Menz Gera Midir, on the north by Antsokiyana Gemza, and on the east by the Oromia Zone. The administrative center of this woreda is Ataye (Effeson); other towns in Ephrata and Gidim include Jewha and Karakore.
Jiillee Dhummuugaa is woreda located in the Oromo Community Special Zone of the Amhara region of Ethiopia. It is bordered on the east and south by the Afar Region, on the west by the North shewa Zone, and on the north by Artuma Fursi. Towns in Jilee Dhummuugaa include Senbete, the administrative center, and Bette.
In April of this year, Addis Standard reported about a gruesome violence in which dozens of civilians were executed by members of Fano in the area and many more displaced in an area called Kolash which is a border area between Shewa Robit (North Shewa zone) and Wasen Kurkur (Oromo Special zone).
Similarly, in May of 2021 at least 358,000 people were displaced due to conflict who needed food, shelter, non-food items, water, and healthcare services. “While 90 per cent of the IDPs live in host communities, those in collective sites are living in extremely poor conditions with protection concerns and need for psychosocial support,” the UN said.
In Ataye town, which was the epicenter of the violence and which suffered heavy destruction, “the entire population in the town was displaced and the town is burned down.”
The 253,000 IDPs in North Shewa Zone are sheltered in Mehal Meda site of Efrata Woreda (25,000), Ber Gibi site of Gidem /Ataye Woreda(95,000), Mekoy site of Amsokia Woreda (10,000),Shoa Robit(23,000), and Debre Berhan (100,000).
In the Oromo Special Zone, IDPs are located in Artuma Fursi (50,127), Jile Timuga (51,350), Kemissie Ketema (2,570) Dewa Cheffa (871). “While the security situation is improving in the conflict hotspots, the IDPs in Debre Berhan, Shoa Robit and Mahale Meda expressed fear and anxiety about returning to their homes mentioning that they have been repeatedly attacked and their loved ones killed and injured (some mentioned that six attacks have occurred over the last past few years)”, the UN said. AS