Addis Abeba – At least 17 people were killed and many injured in clashes between government security forces and local residents in the Gamo zone’s Shura kebele near Arba Minch city in the newly established region of Southern Ethiopia.
The clashes erupted over opposition to a new administrative plan to incorporate the area into the Arba Minch city limits, according to residents who spoke with Addis Standard on condition of anonymity.
According to one anonymous resident, the violence began around 2pm on Thursday last week when residents burned mattresses belonging to security forces who had been stationed in a nearby camp by the zonal administration. In response, security forces allegedly began shooting indiscriminately at civilians, the resident claimed.
This individual further revealed that a volley of gunfire was exchanged between local militia men and security personnel from the zonal administration, resulting in the demise of at least 17 people including four police officers. A doctor in Arba Minch confirmed to VOA that at least 12 people have died and 15 other were injured.
Another anonymous source told Addis Standard that the inhabitants of the area had been resisting the incorporation of their locality into the administration of Arba Minch city for a considerable duration. This resistance had exposed them to a series of maltreatments, including instances of imprisonment leading to the last week’s clash.
Last Friday, the zonal security task force had announced that it has successfully apprehended individuals who were actively engaged in efforts to disrupt the tranquility of the newly established region and undermine the constitutional framework.
The official statement from the task force additionally revealed that these individuals had maintained illegal control over the Shura kebele and conwere found to be in unlawful possession of arms and were participating in unauthorized military training.
The statement noted that “mild damages” on human lives and properties have been incurred during the clashes.
Providing further insight into the incident, Sadika Sime, a respected elder within the Gamo community, shared with Addis Standard that armed government forces were dispatched on the aforementioned Thursday with the mission of apprehending certain individuals who were believed to be impeding the progress of the administrative restructuring.
However, Sadika conveyed that the residents of the area objected to surrendering these individuals, asserting that they were representative figures for the community. This refusal consequently escalated the confrontation.
“While the cabinet of Arba Minch Zuria Woreda had already sanctioned the decision to implement the territorial reorganization in conjunction with Arba Minch city administration, the residents have continued to contest this decision. The government’s communication efforts to foster understanding about the decision have been inadequate,” lamented Sadika.
The elderly appealed for an amicable resolution to the dispute, urging all involved parties to convene for a peaceful dialogue.
The administrative restructuring and the subsequent fallout came in the backdrop of unrest, in the newly established region, caused by distribution of administrative offices between region’s major cities. Earlier this month, Residents of the Gamo Zone and Arba Minch city have staged protests after unverified document widely shared on social media suggested Wolaita Sodo of the Wolaita zone as the primary administrative and political center for the new cluster region.
The Southern Ethiopia region became Ethiopia’s 13th regional state, carved out of six zones in the former SNNP region; Wolaita, Konso, South Omo, Gamo, Gedeo and Gofa, and five special woredas (districts), namely Burji, Basketo, Ale, Amaro and Derashe following a referendum held on 06 February. AS