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News: More than 200 civilians killed in West Wollega violence; Oromia state, armed group trade blame

Addis Abeba – More than 200 civilians are reported killed in the war torn West Wollega zone of Oromia regional state in what the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said was related to clashes between government security forces and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), referred to by the government as “OLF/Shene.” The rights body blamed the killings on the armed group.

The killing on Saturday June 18 in Tole Kebele, Gimbi Woreda of west Wollega zone is the deadliest in recent months. Abdul-Seid Tahir, a resident of the area who escaped the violence told The Associated Press that he has “counted 230 bodies. I am afraid this is the deadliest attack against civilians we have seen in our lifetime.”

“We are burying them in mass graves, and we are still collecting bodies. Federal army units have now arrived, but we fear that the attacks could continue if they leave,” Abdul-Seid said.

Shambel, who is only named by his first name over fears for his safety, told the AP that the targets were “local Amhara community” that settled in the area about 30 years ago and said they were being “killed like chickens.”

The EHRC said on Sunday the killings occurred following “clashes between government forces and Oromo Liberation Army (OLF/Sene) militants” and said the “attack by the armed group” against civilians has “resulted in severe civilian casualties, injuries, and property damages. Residents are still calling for immediate assistance due to security concerns in the area.”

In a statement released on Saturday, the Oromia regional state government blamed the rebels and vowed “federal and regional security forces will continue to crack down” on the armed group, which has been designated as a terrorist group by the Ethiopian Parliament.

However, Odaa Tarbii, OLA International Spokesperson, said in a verified Twitter page that “the killings and property destruction that occurred in Tole, Gimbi district were committed by the “Gaachana Sirna” militia created by the Oromia state itself.”

Months long investigation by Addis Standard published in February this year revealed the plight of hundreds of civilian members of the Amhara community from various parts of Wollega zone who fled sustained attacks and were seeking refuge in Addis Abeba; the report also found out hundreds more have been made to relocate in Arsi zone, Oromia regional state.

West Wollega zone of Oromia state is located along the border with Gembella regional state, where heavy gun-battle involving regional security forces and joint rebel forces of the Gambella Liberation Front (GLF) and OLA on Thursday 16 June resulted in the death of dozens of civilians and security forces. AS

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