- The attack took place in Bekoji, Metekel region, Bulen county, Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said in a statement
- The authorities are investigating about the identities of the attackers
- Many ethnic groups, including the Gumuz people, live in the area where the attack took place
In a dawn attack on Wednesday in the western Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, gunmen killed more than 100 people, the human rights commission said, as residents described fleeing the latest deadly assault in an area anguished by ethnic violence.
The attack took place in the village of Bekoji in Bulen County, in the Metekel district, an area where multiple ethnic groups live, the state-run Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said in a statement.
Since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was appointed in 2018 and accelerated democratic reforms that loosened the iron grip of the state on ethnic rivalries, Africa’s second-most populous nation has been grappling with frequent outbreaks of deadly violence.
Further simmering tensions over land, power and resources have been inflamed by elections due next year.
Ethiopia’s military has been fighting rebels in the northern Tigray region for over 6 weeks in a conflict in a separate part of the country that has displaced up to 950,000 people. The deployment of federal troops in other restive areas has raised concerns of a security vacuum.
Several ethnic groups, including the Gumuz people, live in the region. But poor farmers and some businessmen from the neighboring Amhara region have started to move into the area in recent years, causing some Gumuz to complain that fertile land has been taken away.
Some Amhara leaders are now claiming that they rightfully belong to some of the land in the region, particularly in the Metekel zone, claims that have angered the Gumuz people.
“It was people who came from the forest who were involved in previous attacks, but in this case, victims said they knew the people involved in the attack,” the rights commission said in its statement.
A farmer named Belay Wajera, from the western town of Bulen, told the International news agency, Reuters, that after Wednesday’s raid, he counted 82 dead bodies on the field close to his house. Awakened to the sound of gunshots, he and his family fled out of their home as men shouted “catch them,” he said. Wajera told Reuters by phone late on Wednesday that his wife and five of his children had been shot dead, shot in the buttocks, while four other children had escaped and are now missing.
Hassen Yimama, another resident of the town, said armed men stormed the area about 6 a.m. (0300 GMT). He told Reuters that in a different area, he had counted 20 bodies. He grabbed his own gun, but was shot in the stomach by the assailants.
A local medic said he and his colleagues treated 38 people wounded, most of them suffering from gunshot wounds. Patients told him about relatives killed with knives and told him that gunmen had set fire the houses and shot people trying to flee, he said.
A nurse at the same facility told Reuters, adding that a five-year-old child died while being transported to the clinic, “We were not prepared for this and we are out of medicine.”
The attack came a day after the military chief of staff, Abiy along with other top federal officials visited the area to urge calm after numerous deadly attacks in recent months, such as a November 14 attack in which 34 people were killed by gunmen attacking a bus.
On Tuesday, Abiy tweeted the images of his meetings that day in the town of Metekel, near where the attack of 14th November took place, saying, “There is always the ability of enemies to split Ethiopia along ethnic and religious lines. The desire would remain unfulfilled.”
He said the desire for peace from citizens “outweighs any divisive agenda.”