WASHINGTON — At least 32 people have been killed in clashes across Ethiopia’s Oromia and Somali regions following clashes between rival ethnic Somali and Oromo forces, a former Ethiopian lawmaker said.
Speaking to VOA Somali Service, Boqor Ali Omar Allale said at least 32 ethnic Somalis, including his younger brother, were killed on Monday night in Awaday, a small town between Ethiopia’s most holy Muslim town of Harar and its big eastern city of Dire Dawa.
“They were innocent business people sleeping with their children and spouses. They were attacked in their homes and most of them beheaded. Based on the number of burial spaces arranged, we have at least 32 deaths, including my younger” brother, Allale told VOA Somali from Jigjiga, the capital city of the Somali region of Ethiopia.
Other sources and relatives of those killed have confirmed the incident, although they have sough anonymity, fearing reprisals.
One source said four of his cousins, who were transporting Khat — a plant used as a stimulant in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti and Yemen — were among those killed.
So far, Ethiopian authorities have not commented on the incident. VOA could not immediately confirm the reported killings with Ethiopian regional and federal authorities.
The alleged incident follows clashes between rival ethnic Somali and Oromo armed groups, which have been raging in areas bordering the Oromia and Somali regional states for months, but escalated this week into violent confrontations. Each side is accusing the other of being behind the deadly violence.
Speaking to VOA Afaan Oromoo, Addisu Arega, the Oromia regional communication director, accused the Liyu (“special” in Amharic) police in the Somali region of crossing into the Oromia region and killing a number of people.
Arega said people were captured during the fighting, and “based on that information, we have now realized, three entities are taking part on attacking our people: Somali region Liyu police, Somali region militias and a man holding a Somali republic regular Army Identification Card, whom we are investigating.”
On the other side, Idiris Isma’il, Somali regional communication director, denied the accusation, saying it was “a total lie.”
“I was surprised to hear such information that our special police force known as Liyu police, are waging attacks on residents. It is absurd,” Isma’il told VOA Amharic Service. “The allegation was not analyzed and confirmed by the federal government’s security apparatus nor by the Somali regional state; therefore, it is a total lie.”
Isma’il has also accused Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) of starting the violence between the two communities, an accusation denied by ONLF spokesman Abdulkadir Hassan Hirmoge.
“We have nothing to do with these clashes. The regimes in Nazareth and Jigjiga always play the two brotherly people against each other to divide or suppress them in times of public revolution,” Hirmoge said.
Journalists in Ethiopia reported on Tuesday that at least two people were killed and more than 600 others displaced during protests across Ethiopia’s east.
On Sept. 7, at least four people were killed near Moyale, a city in Southern Ethiopia, when Oromo militia armed with machetes attacked patients in a hospital, local media reported.
A resident of Moyale, and a relative of one of those killed, told VOA Somali over the phone on the condition of anonymity: “I can confirm the death of four people killed with knives and machetes. They were patients who sought a medical care to a hospital in Oromia region. They were attacked by mobs armed with knives and machetes for revenge.”
Moyale, deep in Ethiopia’s dusty southeastern drylands and straddling the border with Kenya, is divided along the long-contested frontier between Oromia and Somali regional states.
The city, in which three different flags fly side-by-side — the flag of Ethiopian federal government, the Oromo flag, and that of the Somali state of Ethiopia — has been a testament to the success of Ethiopia’s distinct model of ethnically based federalism, established in 1994.
But analysts say the continuation of deadly ethnic clashes will endanger Ethiopia’s federal system.
The latest violence comes a month after the Ethiopian government lifted a 10-month state of emergency imposed after more than two years of anti-government protests, mainly in the Oromia region.
Ethiopian security forces killed more than 400 people in those waves of anti-government demonstrations, according to U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.
Ethiopia’s Web Blackout Ends, Raising Hopes of Reforms Under New PM
REUTERS — ADDIS ABABA — Internet users in Ethiopia said on Monday the government appeared to have ended a three-month online blackout, raising hopes of a relaxation of restrictions after the arrival of a new prime minister who promised reforms.
Mobile and broadband internet services shut down in December in many regions outside the capital that were hit by unrest that threatened the ruling coalition’s tight hold on country.
Rights groups accused the government of trying to stop them spreading news online and organizing rallies calling for land rights and other freedoms – charges the government denied. But internet users said they had noticed services returning following the April 2 inauguration of Abiy Ahmed.
The communications minister and the state-run telecoms monopoly did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
“We are very happy that it is back to normal,” said Hassan Bulcha, who runs an internet cafe in Shashemene, a town in the state of Oromiya which has seen some of the worst violence since protests erupted in 2015.
Groups that monitor internet usage in Ethiopia – one of the last countries on the continent with a state telecoms monopoly – gave the news a guarded welcome.
“Restoration of Ethiopia’s internet is a short-term win in a long-term struggle,” said Peter Micek of Access Now, a group that said it recorded two large-scale internet shutdowns in Ethiopia in 2017 and three in 2016.
The move was a step forward, but worries remained about the government’s wider commitment to freedoms, said CIPESA (Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa), a Uganda-based body that lists Britain among itsfunders.
“It would be too optimistic to expect that the new prime minister’s government will overnight dismantle all the layers of authoritarian control that have for decades been at the center of state power in Ethiopia,” said Juliet Nanfuka from CIPESA.
The government has denied accusations that it abuses protesters’ rights and said it has only acted to keep order.
The new prime minister, a 42-year-old former army officer from Oromiya, has travelled to several areas of the country, promising to address grievances strengthen a range of political and civil rights.
But the country remains under a state of emergency imposed a day after Abiy Ahmed’s predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn resigned in February.
Since 2015, hundreds have died in violence triggered by demonstrations over land rights in Ethiopia’s Oromiya region.
The protests broadened into rallies over freedoms that spread to other regions.
Unlike in other African countries where the majority of internet users access the web through mobile phones, internet cafes are still widely used in Ethiopia because smartphones remain expensive and mobile data costs are high.
Africa’s second-most populous nation has clocked the region’s fastest economic growth rates over the past decade but it has among the region’s lowest internet penetration rates.
People in Oromiya, which surrounds the capital, in the Amhara region, and in the eastern city of Harar and nearby Dire Dawa, told Reuters internet access and mobile 3G servicesresumed about a week ago.
Ethiopia’s Abiy strikes conciliatory tone in oath speech
DAILY NATION — Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, apologised to people harmed in recent political unrest and reached out both to the political opposition and long-time rival Eritrea at his swearing-in on Monday.
Abiy is the first ethnic Oromo to be selected by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) as prime minister in its 27 years of rule.
In a parliamentary session, Abiy formally replaced Hailemariam Desalegn, whose surprise resignation in February came after more than two years of anti-government protests led by the Oromo.
“Ethiopians living abroad and Ethiopians living here, we need to forgive each other from the bottom of our hearts,” Abiy said in a speech after he was sworn in.
Abiy, 42, a former minister of science and technology, takes the reins of one of Africa’s fastest-growing and most-populous economies amid hopes that he will change the EPRDF’s authoritarian style of governing.
More than 1,100 people are being held without trial under a state of emergency declared after Hailemariam’s resignation.
They include dissidents who had been freed just months earlier in a mass prisoner amnesty ordered by Hailemariam.
While he made no mention of the emergency decree in his speech, Abiy reached out to the country’s opposition politicians, many of whom were incarcerated during Hailemariam’s time.
“We will not be seeing you as enemies, but be seeing you as brothers,” Abiy said.
Unrest among the Oromos started in late 2015 over a government development plan they decried as unfair, and soon spread to the country’s second-largest ethnicity, the Amhara.
The protests resulted in hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands of arrests and only stopped after Ethiopia was placed under emergency rule for 10 months from October 2016.
Referring to people who were hurt or jailed in the protests, Abiy said “I apologise from the bottom of my heart”.
He also extended an olive branch to Eritrea, Ethiopia’s one-time province turned arch-enemy, after a two-year war that started in 1998.
“For the common good of the two countries, not only for our benefit but for the two nations which are tied by blood, we are ready to solve our differences with discussion,” Abiy said.
“We invite the Eritrean government to show the same sentiment.”
Can Ethiopia’s new leader bridge ethnic divides?
A young reformer or an entrenched military man? Ethiopia’s prime minister-elect is the first from the Oromo ethnic group that’s been at the forefront of anti-government protests.
Community activists say the group has been marginalised and excluded from political and economic power.
Ahmed has a doctorate in peace and security, as well as long-standing military and intelligence ties.
Many hope his rise is an opportunity to turn the page on a difficult chapter in Ethiopian history.
Can he unite a country riven by ethnic tensions?
Presenter: Elizabeth Puranam
Negeri Lencho – Ethiopia’s communications minister
Tsedale Lemma – editor in chief of the Addis Standard
Mohammed Ademo – an Ethiopian journalist and founder of OPride.com, an independent news website about the Oromo and Ethiopia