By Addis Standard Staff
Addis Abeba – The Gambella regional state government said this morning that gunfire exchange between “enemy forces” and government security forces is ongoing in Gambella city since 06:30 AM local time this morning. The Gambella regional state government press secretariat bureau issued another statement explaining that the ongoing exchange of gunfights in the Gabella city and its environs is between government forces and joint forces of the Gambella Liberation Front (GLF) and “Shene”, the government’s reference to Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), which has been designated as “terrorist organization” by Ethiopian parliament.
The statement from the regional government said that due to the “strong struggle” from government security forces “the city was partially liberated,” and admitted that there were causalities “on both sides”, but the extent was “unknown”. The office called on the people of Gembella city to stay indoors.
The regional state’s statement confirmed two statements issued earlier today by the Gambella Liberation Front/Army and the spokesperson of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) announcing that they were undertaking a joint operation in the capital city of the Gambella region. The OLA also claimed that its forces were fighting with government forces in two towns, Dembidollo and Gimbi, in the western part of the Oromia region.
A resident of the capital of Gambella regional state told Addis Standard that the city has been taken over by the joint armed forces. “Most of the villages are taken. I can hear gunshots as we speak,” he added, “It has been going on since dawn.”
The resident also said that the headquarters of the regional council is also taken by the armed forces. He further explained that he and several other residents fled to the woods for fear of their lives. According to the resident, the only government forces who tried to fend off the attacks were members of the federal police and the regional special forces. “They were overwhelmed by the sudden attack by the armed groups who were armed with heavy weaponry. They ran out of bullets and retreated to the police station,” he explained.
Another resident of the city who spoke with Addis Standard said, “I have never heard such a heavy exchange of gunfire. It sounds like a complete war zone.”
In the statement issued by Gambella regional government said, “government forces were able to reclaim half of the city after heavy fighting,” and further said that there were casualties from both sides although it didn’t mention the exact figure.
A regional official who spoke to BBC Amharic on conditions of anonymity said that at least two security forces were killed in the attacks and three gunmen from the armed forces were killed. He added that government forces were outnumbered and that the regional government has notified the federal government. “They told us that they are trying to deploy additional forces from nearby cities,” he explained.
Residents of the city who spoke to the news outlet said that armed men were seen in parts of the city. The residents added that some parts of the city are under the control of the armed groups and speculated that the seat of the regional president could be targeted. Furthermore, the residents said that heavy gunshots were heard around the premises of the office of the regional president. They also said that many were injured and that the residence of the president, as well as a fuel depot, was targeted by the armed forces. President Umod Ujulu however told BBC Amharic that he had “no information” to provide about the exchange of fire and the current situation in the city.
On 13 June the Gambella regional state’s Security Council held a meeting and has decided to give priority focus to “illegal and lawless” forces operating in the region in order to address security concerns in the region. The Security Council has also agreed that the development of the Gambella region will not continue unless these shortcomings, both in urban and rural are, were addressed “in a short period of time.”
In a related development, OLA’s spokesperson also said that its forces are currently engaging the government military in two towns located in West Wollega and Qellme Wollega zones in the Oromia regional state. The OLA claimed that its forces were fighting government forces in the capital of Qellem Wollega zone, Dembidollo, and Gimbi, another town in the adjacent West Wollega zone. In a Twitter post, the OLA said that its forces freed political prisoners that were being held in Dambidollo.
A resident of Gimbi town told Addis Standard that a heavy exchange of gunfire could be heard around the outskirts of the town starting from 7:00 Am local time. According to the source, residents remained home, and there is no movement in the town aside from government military vehicles. Similarly, a resident of Dembidolo who spoke with Addis Standard on conditions of anonymity said, “We woke up to sounds of heavy gunfire. We haven’t been able to leave our homes. All we hear is an exchange of gunshots. We don’t know what is going on.”
The head of the federal government communication service, Legesse Tulu (P.hD) was not available for comments. AS