Gunmen killed more than 60 people and displaced 20,000 during three days of ethnically motivated violence in late August in Ethiopia’s most populous region, Oromiya, the country’s human rights commission said on Tuesday.
Home to Oromos, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, and to other communities such as Amharas, the second largest, Oromiya has seen an escalation of violence over the past two years, fanned by a mix of ethnic grievances and political tensions.
The state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said the latest bloodshed started on Aug. 29, when fighters from the outlawed Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) attempted to capture the town of Obora, killing three Amharas in the process.
Over the following two days, the EHRC said, Amharas from surrounding districts, including from across the boundary with the neighboring Amhara region, launched reprisal killings against Oromos.
“During the two-day attack more than 60 people were killed and more than 70 were injured. In addition, properties and cattle were looted,” the EHRC said, citing local people and officials.
“Due to the attack more than 20,000 people were displaced and are now in Obora town,” it said.
The violence in Oromiya is separate from the conflict in the northern region of Tigray, pitting Ethiopia’s federal army against forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the party that governs the region.
However, both crises are rooted in grievances and rivalries stretching back through decades of Ethiopia’s tumultuous history, exacerbated by political developments in recent years.
The TPLF and the OLA forged an alliance last year, alarming the government and intensifying a crackdown against Oromiya armed groups.
Oromos have long complained of marginalization and neglect by Ethiopia’s central government, and had hoped that their lot would improve after they helped Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is of mixed Oromo-Amhara parentage, come to power in 2018.
However, many have become disenchanted with the prime minister, and political analysts say some of his reforms appear to have emboldened regional powerbrokers to seek to build ethnic support bases, sometimes through violent means.
Spokespersons for the Oromo and Amhara regional administrations and for the OLA did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the EHRC statement.