BY SIYANNE MEKONNEN @SIYAANNE AND
MAHLET FASIL @MAHLETFASIL
Addis Abeba, December 23/2020 – Disturbing eyewitness reports are reaching Addis Standard about overnight attacks which left “more than 90” people killed in Bekuji Kebelle, Bulen Wereda, Metekel Zone, in Benishangul Gumuz regional state.
Reports coming since this morning indicate that civilians were targeted in the attack which lasted for “several hours” in which “more than 90 people were killed, houses torched and hundreds were displaced,” according to one eyewitness who contacted Addis Standard on conditions of anonymity.
Admasu Kebede, a resident of Bekuji Kebele said “bodies are lying in the street and in the farms” but he said he cannot be sure about the number of casualties because bodies have not been recovered. Admasu added that survivors were escaping to another areas at the moment.
Tesfahun Amogne another eyewitness told Addis Standard by phone that he woke up to gunshots at dawn. “Soon we were surrounded by up to 500 gunmen. Some of us ran for our lives while others were killed.” he said, adding he was in hiding at the moment. Community members have “repeatedly notified” the security forces of the attacks but said they arrived only after the attackers had left.
Bewket Chale, another eyewitness who is fleeing to safety with his family said he doesn’t know the conditions of the people he left behind. “We were waiting for our turns,” he said referring to recent similar attacks on civilians in Metekel.
The Benishangul Gumuz Prosperity Party (PP) has expressed its sadness about “the horrible massacre of civilian citizens” and cautioned “citizens to work in coordination with federal police and regional security forces and organize to protect themselves.”
The office also blamed “evil forces who have given up hope” after PM Abiy’s visit to the Metekel zone and “would not hesitate to stage any kind of attack” and called on the people to “rally behind the government to protect themselves.”
Quoting survivors, Amhara Mass Media Agency also reported that there was “heavy massacre” in the same area and was “ethnically targeted”, indicating that the victims were members of the Amhara community. According to AMMA calls for rescue were “unanswered” from local authorities. Tikvah Ethiopia, a popular Telegram Channel for local news, on its part cited its members from the area as saying “more than 96 people were killed.” It also reported that more than 20 people were admitted to Bekuji health center for treatment.
The attack came one day after President of Benishangul Gumuz regional state, Ashadli Hussein, called on civilians in Metekel zone who have joined armed groups to stir clear from those areas. According to the President, those civilians do not fully understand “TPLF’s criminal mission” and cautioned them to get out of harm’s way during the ongoing “law enforcement operation” in the areas. He further called on civilians to join villages where “peaceful parts of the community” live and to separate themselves from “forces of destruction.”
On December 22, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has held discussion with the local community in Metekel yesterday and told communities that the federal government was working with the Command Post and local security forces to find lasting ways to resolve the security crisis in the area, which has seen intensified repeated attacks by armed groups in recent weeks.
In a statement released late in the evening, regional President Ashadli on his part announced that the regional state, in collaboration with the federal government, has set new directives to address the security crisis in the zone and provide long term solutions.
The President recalled that similar conflicts in Asosa and Kemashi zones were immediately halted but he admitted that it has taken time for the security forces and the leadership of the region to contain the security crisis in the Metekel Zone since 2019. There are a lot of groups participating in perpetuating the violence in the region, according to Ashadli, with forces associated with “TPLF being the major ones” who has been instigating conflict “by using different political parties to recruit the youth.” He noted that coordinated efforts by both the federal and regional states in annihilating “anti-peace forces”, arresting them and confiscating firearms, bear some fruits but didn’t successfully address the problem. “The solution for those who wish to continue to engage in violence is law enforcement,” he said.
The President urged the people of the regional state to prioritize peace and take advantage of the opportunity that comes with the construction of the Grand Renaissance Ethiopian Dam (GERD), located in Guba wereda of the region.
He also emphasized the positive relationship of the Amhara regional state and Benishangul regional state, adding that the security crisis in Metekel zone is a “common problem” to which the two regions would provide solution through discussion. The ministry of peace will oversee a reconciliation committee comprising Benishangul-Gumuz and Amhara regions.