ADDIS ABABA: Gunmen killed more than 100 people in a dawn attack in the western Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia on Wednesday, the Human Rights Commission said after residents described fleeing the latest fatal attack in an area marked by ethnic violence .
The attack occurred in Bekoji village in Bulen district In the Metekel zone, the Ethiopian State Commission on Human Rights said in a statement, an area home to multiple ethnic groups.
Africa’s second largest nation has been grappling with regular outbreaks of deadly violence since the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was appointed in 2018 and accelerated democratic reforms that eased the state’s iron hold on regional rivalries.
The upcoming elections next year have further fueled simmering tensions over land, power and resources.
In another part of the country, the Ethiopian military has been fighting rebels in the northern Tigray region for over six weeks in a conflict that has displaced nearly 950,000 people. The deployment of federal troops has raised fears of a security vacuum in other troubled regions.
Ethiopia is also fighting an uprising in the Oromiya Region and faces longstanding security threats from Somali Islamist fighters along its porous eastern border.
Gashu Dugaz, a senior regional security official, said authorities are aware of the Benishangul-Gumuz attack and have verified the identities of the attackers and victims, but did not provide any further information.
Several ethnic groups live in the region, including the Gumuz. But in recent years, farmers and business people from the neighboring Amhara region have started moving to the area, leading some Gumuz to complain that fertile land was being taken.
Some Amhara leaders now say that part of the land in the region – particularly the Metekel zone – rightly belongs to them, claims that have angered the Gumuz.
“In previous attacks, people from the forest were involved, but in this case the victims said they knew the people involved in the attack,” the Justice Commission said in its statement.
82 Bodies counted in the field
Belay Wajera, a farmer in the western city von Bulen, told Reuters that he counted 82 bodies in a field near his home after Wednesday’s robbery. He and his family woke up to the sound of gunshots and ran out of their home when men shouted, “Catch her,” he said. His wife and five of his children were shot, he was shot in the buttocks, while four other children escaped and are now missing, Wajera told Reuters by phone late Wednesday.
Another resident of the city, Hassen Yimama, said armed men stormed the area around 6 a.m. (3:00 a.m. GMT). He told Reuters that he had counted 20 bodies elsewhere. He reached for his own gun, but attackers shot him in the stomach.
A local doctor said he and his colleagues treated 38 injured, most of whom were gunshot wounds. Patients told him about relatives who were killed with knives and told him that armed men set houses on fire and shot people who were trying to flee, he said.
“We weren’t prepared for it and we’re out of medicine,” a nurse at the same facility told Reuters, adding that a five-year-old child died when they were rushed to the clinic.
The attack came a day after Abiy, the military chief of staff and other senior federal officials visited the area following several fatal incidents in recent months, such as a November 14 attack in which armed men aimed at a bus and killed 34 people to urge calm.
“The enemy’s desire to divide Ethiopia ethnically and religiously remains. This wish will remain unfulfilled,” Abiy tweeted Tuesday along with photos of his meetings that day in the city of Metekel, near the attack on Nov. November.
He said residents’ desire for peace “outweighs any divisive agenda.”