East Africa

Hundreds Feared Dead, Tens of Thousands Displaced in Ethnic Clashes in Ethiopia

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“We can say hundreds from the Oromo ethnicity were killed…and there were also deaths on the Somali side, we don’t know exactly how many,” government spokesman Negeri Lencho told reporters at a press conference on Monday, AFP reports.

This month’s clashes are part of a longstanding conflict over disputed arable lands claimed by both nationalities, which has intensified following the killing of two local administrators in Oromia region earlier this month. The murders provoked violent protests among ethnic Oromos. Last week, Oromia head Lemma Megersa estimated that 50,000 people had been displaced by the clashes.

South African President Jacob Zuma, right, addresses the media in Pretroia, South Africa Tuesday, Sept 12, 2017 on the 40th anniversary of the death of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, back.Lenco said that authorities have established an emergency headquarters to help deal with the refugees in the region and mediate efforts to resolve the conflict. Federal police and military units have been dispatched to the conflict zone to ensure order. Open clashes have been quelled on the Oromia-Somali regional borders. The spokesman confirmed that the government would probe the bloodshed. 

Ethiopia is divided into 11 ethno-linguistically based regional states and separate chartered cities. The Oromo, who make up a 35% plurality of the country’s population, and the ethnic Somalis have a long history of clashes about rights to arable land. 

In 2004, a referendum was carried out to settle the issue, but disputes have persisted, with each side accusing the other of the use of local armed groups. Recently, Oromos accused the Somali region’s Liyu special police force of being involved in some of the incidents. The heads of each region signed an agreement meant to settle the unrest earlier this year. Mediation efforts are underway.

Ethiopia’s Somali region has borne the brunt of a massive drought this year, which has resulted in nearly 8 million people requiring emergency food aid.

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