‘We are not safe’: Ethiopians flee massacre that killed hundreds
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For decades, the village had been a sanctuary for the families, who tilled the land and cared for their herds in Ethiopia’s largest region. But Monday, two days after gunmen set upon the ethnic Amhara residents of Tole village in the Oromia region of Ethiopia — killing perhaps hundreds, injuring many others and laying waste to property — any sense of sanctuary had vanished.
“We are not safe,” said Fikadu, a resident of the village who only gave his first name over fears for his safety.
The rampage in Tole on Saturday shook Africa’s second-most-populous nation, where a surge of interethnic violence and a gruelling civil war has left millions dead, displaced or in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.
Fikadu fled from the massacre scene to the nearby town of Gimbi, where he said dozens of injured people from the village had been brought to receive medical assistance. He blamed an outlawed militant group, the Oromo Liberation Army, for the attack.
There has been no official confirmation of the number of casualties yet, but witnesses and reports put it at 200 people or more.
Yilkal Kefale, president of the neighbouring Amhara regional state, also attributed the attack to the militants, who are known as the OLA, according to the regional state media. And Daniel Bekele, head of the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, said the militants’ offensive Saturday had resulted in “severe civilian casualties, injuries and damage to property.”
But the OLA denied carrying out the attack, instead attributing it to a militia associated with the regional government in Oromia.
The assault was the latest in a string of ethnic attacks that have cast a pall on Ethiopia, raising into question the Horn of Africa nation’s long-term stability, its regional standing and the ability of its many ethnic groups to coexist in peace.
The violence came almost two years into the conflict in the northern region of Tigray, which has been marked by the massacre of civilians, destruction of schools and hospitals, and a mass exodus of refugees, including to neighbouring Sudan. The war has battered Ethiopia’s economy — once among the fastest-growing in Africa — which was already struggling as large swaths of the country remain in the grip of a record drought that has devastated farms and livestock.
The violence has also underscored the task facing Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, as he tries to centralize his authority in a nation of 115 million people and dozens of ethnic groups with divergent, and sometimes competing, interests.
On Monday, Abiy said in a post on Twitter that the attacks on innocent civilians were “unacceptable,” adding, “Restoring peace and security in affected communities remains our key priority.”
But as ethnic violence spreads, human rights groups have denounced the government’s communications blackouts in many areas that have hindered the ability to report and investigate abuses.
Observers say the latest attack signalled the growing discontent Abiy, 45, faces among his own Oromo ethnic group. Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, condemned what he described as ‘horrific acts’ in Oromia. Photograph: Mulugeta Ayene/AP Abiy came to power in 2018 on the back of anti-government protests led by the Oromos, the country’s largest, if historically marginalized, ethnic group. But soon after, authorities began cracking down on their protests and arrested Oromo activists and leaders, some of whom had stood up as formidable opponents to Abiy’s vision of a more centralized Ethiopia.
Feeling increasingly shunned, many disaffected Oromo nationalists turned to…