Addis Abeba – Local residents of East Meskan Woreda, in Gurage Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and people’s (SNNP) regional state, are calling for a government intervention and protection after seven people were killed in latest armed attack on Saturday 29 July; several more were also injured in the attack.
According to three local residents who spoke to Addis Standard, Saturday’s attack took place in an area called Dida, in the Meskan Woreda, a woreda located some 135 Km south east of the capital Addis Abeba.
A resident who lives in close proximity to where the armed attack occurred, said that the victims were on their way from Dida town to Enseno town, heading to the customary Saturday market. They were traveling in two horse-drawn carts and one three-wheeled vehicle otherwise known as ‘Bajaj’ when the attackers, allegedly from a Mareqo Woreda, ambushed them from their hideout in a nearby farming field.
Another resident also told Addis Standard that the attackers forced the victims off their transport and subsequently opened fire at them at close range. This assault, according to the resident, led to the immediate death of seven people, while several others were injured.
The informant further recounted that a pregnant woman was among those killed. She had been traveling alongside her husband, both of whom were killed in the attack.
The third resident, who also chose to remain anonymous for fear of security, told Addis standard by phone that similar violent attacks have become a regular occurrence in the area as of late. He further brought to attention another attack that took place on 24 July, in which a husband, wife, and their neighbor were brutally killed at their own residence.
This latest attack comes in the backdrop of a renewed violence in the area, which has inflicted fear and insecurity amongst the local population. In early July, local newspapers reported the killing of five civilians in the same woreda by unidentified armed group.
The residents say the underlying cause of these recurrent violence appears to be a long standing dispute regarding the administrative demarcation between Meskan and Mareko districts of the Gurage zone. In light of these events, residents are making an urgent plea to the government to intervene and address the dire situation.
In December 2018, 24 people were killed, more than 160 injured and thousands displaced after land dispute triggered clashes in Dida and Bati Foto villages in Meskan Woreda, leading to the arrest of senior local government officials. In a preceding attack in September same year, another 10 people were killed and several others were injured with the incident causing displacement of thousands of people.
Tensions between the Meskan and Mareko woredas trace their origins to more than two decades ago due to disputed areas following the formation of the two as separate woredas of Meskane and Mareko in the Gurage zone, from one known as “Meskanena Mareko woreda.”
Adding to the existing layers of conflict is a recent decision by the federal government to reorganize the SNNP region into a “cluster”, which has compelled council members of Kebana, Mareko, Meskan and East Meskan woredas, as well as Butajra city administration, the capital of Meskan Woreda, to accept the “cluster” rearrangement. All of these weredas are in the Gurage zone, which had previously resisted the reorganization. Accordingly, the Butajra city administration, together with Meskan and East Meskan woredas, have decided to form a new zone with its center in Butajira city; whereas the Markeko and Kebena woredas decided for each to upgrade their status into Special Woredas.
Attempts by Addis Standard to reach local officials for comment on the incident have been unsuccessful so far. AS