At least 80 people were killed on Tuesday when unidentified gunmen stormed a village in western Ethiopia, most recently in a series of ethnically driven massacres in the area, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said on Wednesday.
The massacre in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, along the border with Sudan, is the latest challenge for the regime of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 and promised to unite Ethiopia but has struggled to contain a growing wave of ethnic violence.
The attacks further threaten the stability of Africa̵
Analysts say the Tigray campaign has hampered Mr. Abiye’s ability to stem clashes like the latest in Benishangul-Gumuz because it has forced him to divert troops from all over Ethiopia to Tigray. As a result, ethnic clashes that had already been growing for several months have only gotten worse.
In the latest episode, witnesses said men from the Gumuz ethnic group, armed with rifles and swords, stormed into the village of Daletti early Tuesday. Pictures from the aftermath of the attack, provided by local activists, showed bloody bodies of women and children strewn on the ground, many with horrific wounds. They said many of the victims were ethnic Amharas and Agaws, who are a minority in this region.
“A group of Gumuz men came to our village and sang ‘Leave our country,'” said Sebsibie Ibrahim, 36, a store owner in the Metekel district, speaking by telephone. “They fired their weapons and used swords to attack anyone they encountered – women, children, the elderly.”
In the chaos that followed, houses were burned and an old man beheaded outside his house, Sebsibie said. “Blood flowed from his throat,” he said.
On December 22, Mr. Abiy time from the campaign in Tigray to visit Benishangul-Gumuz and soothe the tensions in the area. But a day later, gunmen attacked a village, leaving at least 100 people dead, according to human rights groups.
Aaron Maasho, a spokesman for the government-funded Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, which reported the killings on Wednesday, called on Abiy to deploy additional security forces to maintain peace in the troubled region.
“For the fifth time, we call on the federal and regional authorities to strengthen security in Metekel,” he said, referring to the Benishangul-Gumuz district where the killings took place.
Mr. Abiy’s decision to open Ethiopian politics after coming to power in 2018, releasing political prisoners and allowing exiles to return was widely acknowledged. But it also released smoldering ethnic tensions.
Benishangul-Gumuz, for example, is home to five major ethnic groups, mainly from the Berta and Gumuz populations. But the region is also home to minorities Amharas, Oromos, Tigrayans and Agaws – a source of rising tension.
Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Abiy, did not answer questions about the violence.
Dessalegn Chanie, an opposition politician from Amhara, said in recent days there had been signs that armed men from the Oromo and Gumuz ethnic groups were preparing an attack, especially in areas where there was no federal presence.
“These attacks were deliberate and very prepared,” he said.
Although Abiy declared victory in Tigray last month, UN officials say the fight continues.
On Wednesday, Ethiopia said its military had killed three senior members of Tigray’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, including Seyoum Mesfin, a former Ethiopian foreign minister.