Authorities in Ethiopia’s Oromia region have said an armed group carried out a “horrendous” attack on civilians, with one survivor saying dozens of people were killed.
A statement from the Oromia regional government on Monday said the attack by the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) took place on Sunday in an area of western Ethiopia known as Wollega.
“Peaceful civilians were killed … in a horrendous way,” the statement said, without providing figures.
Elias Umeta, the region’s administrator, said 32 people were killed in Sunday’s attack, adding that at least 21 houses were burned.
“We buried today 32 of them. About 700 to 750 people were also displaced from the area. The killing was committed by an armed group called OLF Shane,” Umeta was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.
The National Movement of Amhara (NAMA), an opposition party, said the perpetrators of Sunday’s attack appeared to have targeted members of the Amhara ethnic group, Ethiopia’s second-largest.
“The government has failed in its duty to protect the safety of citizens,” Dessalegn Chanie, a senior member of NAMA, told The Associated Press, adding that Ethiopia’s language-based federal system is the main cause for the killings.
“Ethnic Amharas residing outside of the Amhara region are being labeled as outsiders and are exposed to repeated attacks.”
‘More than 50 corpses’
A survivor who spoke by phone to AFP news agency said the violence erupted after soldiers stationed in the area abruptly and inexplicably left, allowing OLA fighters to round up civilians.
“After collecting us, they opened fire on us, and then afterwards looted cattle and burned down houses,” said the survivor, who spoke on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.
“I have counted more than 50 corpses, and I know there were others hit by bullets,” the survivor said.
The OLA, believed to number in the low thousands, broke off from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), an opposition party that spent years in exile but was allowed to return to Ethiopia after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018.
Abiy on Monday condemned the “heartbreaking” attack, saying he had deployed security forces to the area.
“Ethiopia’s enemies are vowing either to rule the country or ruin it, and they are doing everything they can to achieve this. One of their tactics is to arm civilians and carry out barbaric attacks based on identity,” Abiy said in a statement.