By Natnael Fite @NatieFit
Addis Ababa – The head of the Oromia regional state Communications Bureau, Hailu Adugna, told local media that due to “actions being taken against the armed group” in Oromia, the group has been “very weakened.” However, Hailu’s comments directly contradicted that of Taye Dendea, State Minister of Peace and a member of the Oromia regional state council (Caffee), who expressed his dissatisfaction with how the most recent regular meeting of the regional council was conducted, and reports of security crisis in the region.
In his statement issued to local media, Hailu admitted that the issue of security in the region was raised as a major problem of the region during the regional council’s last week, but said that there were improvements and changes. Hailu was talking about the Oromo Liberation Army (ALA), the armed group operating in the region and often referred by the government as “OLF/Shene.”
“Some have been killed and many militants of the group have been captured in coordinated attacks on areas previously controlled by the group. This is an indication of change. At the regular meeting of the regional council, the people’s representatives confirmed that there has been a change by the action taken by the government. But still the people are worried. The group occasionally hides and attacks civilians,” Hailu said, adding that the government was working to reduce the group’s attack power to a high level and gradually destroy it.
He further said that the regional government believes that there is no other option other than the use of force to solve the security problem in the Oromia region and that the military action against the “terrorist” group was bearing fruits and bringing results.
This claim is disputed by Odaa Tarbii, the international spokesman of OLA, Odaa told VOA Amharic that the government’s claims of action against its armed forces are not true and instead said the government’s army is being defeated. “The reality on the ground shows the collapse of the empire. What is happening in reality does not match to their statement,” he said.
When Hailu was asked to reflect on the contradictory views of both from Taye Dendea and Hangaasa Ibrahim, another member of House of Peoples’ Representatives (HoPR), who recently blamed the leadership of the Oromia Regional State government as bearing responsibly for the killings and rampant corruption in the region, Hailu declined to answer and said the matter concerned the party.
“In my opinion, the security report presented to the regional council doesn’t fit the honorable council. Last year, it was said that ‘we will make peace in a few months’. The report says that a considerable number of people have surrendered, various items have been seized, roads have been blocked and a few villages captured by the enemy have been released,” Taye wrote in his recent post on his Facebook. “Last year, only few woredas of Oromia were affected by conflict. Currently, eight zones of Oromia are facing security threats” he said, and criticized the regional government of failing the people of the region “that elected us only last year.” According to him, “externalizing” the destruction, which he described as “shocking”, cannot be the solution.
Taye also put figures into the damage sustained by civilians and their property, which he lamented was not reflected in the annual report submitted to the regional council. “As in North Shewa, our data shows that 210 civilians were killed, 109 people were maimed, 526 houses were burnt, 410 cattle were slaughtered, 1.5 billion birr cash was looted, 195 schools were closed and 75,000 students have lost access to their education. It may be even more when closely investigated. But if it is so much in North Shewa, how much will it be in Guji and Wollega? How much damage was done in West Shewa and East Shewa?” he asked.
Similarly, earlier this month, MP Hangaasa went on a live Facebook broadcasting in which her heavily criticized regional authorities not only for failing to protect civilians from recent atrocities in western Oromia, but also organizing and financing clandestine hit group rampaging the region. MP Hangaasa said the crisis will not go away unless the federal government removed the leadership of the Oromia regional state including the regional police.
Civilians bearing the brunt
Meanwhile, civilians in and around areas where fighting happen and were mentioned by Taye are having their lives thrown into one crisis after another over the past several months. Residents of Yaya Gullelle district in North Shewa zone of Oromia region told Addis Standard that security problems in the district have deteriorated during the past eight months. Increasing patterns of burning houses, killing civilians and slaughtering farmers’ livestock as a result of fighting between armed groups and government security forces has become a routine “culture”. Many of the victims blame the government security forces for the burning of the houses in retaliation for perceived connections with “OLF/Shene.”
A resident who did not want to be named told Addis Standard that five people, including farmers, were recently killed by government forces in Yasa Goda Werke village of Yaya Gullelle district. “It was the government that armed the two farmers. But then when they [government] declared these same people as ‘Shene’, the farmers were afraid and fled from home. When they [the farmers] returned home, the government forces spent the night surrounding them. The next morning, government troops opened fire against 16 people, including the two farmers, who were about to flee. Five people were killed in this way,” he said.
In may this year, Addis Standard reported about the summary execution by government security forces of 18 civilians in Warra Jarso woreda of the North Showa zone. Three of the victims were taken from Jimjimela kebele and 15 were from Aware Golje kebele. Local security forces arrested them on the night of Sunday, 01 May following heavy fighting between government forces and OLA in nearby Bustilo Dhera a few days earlier; they were accused of being associated with OLA before being executed in an operation led by the son of a police officer who was killed in the fighting. AS