ADDISABABA – An attack by gunmen in Ethiopia’s western Oromiya region left at least 260 civilians dead on Saturday, according to two residents who gave detailed accounts on Monday of how they had taken part in burying corpses in mass graves.
Oromiya, home to Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group the Oromo as well as people from other groups, has experienced unrest for many years, rooted in grievances about political marginalisation and neglect by the central government.
Both residents who spoke to Reuters said the victims of Saturday’s attack were ethnic Amharas, a minority in the region.
There was no indication that the attack was directly linked to a conflict in the northern region of Tigray which began in November 2020 and has killed thousands and displaced millions.
Earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had condemned what he described as “horrific acts” in Oromiya, without giving details.
“Attacks on innocent civilians and destruction of livelihoods by illegal and irregular forces is unacceptable,” he said on Twitter. Abiy is an Oromo, the first to be in charge of Ethiopia’s government.
The attack occurred in the Gimbi district of Western Wollega Zone in the western part of Oromiya. One resident gave a figure of 260 dead, the other said 320, making it one of the deadliest attacks on civilians in Ethiopia for years.
The residents declined to give their names because of fears for their safety.
“So far we have buried 260 people which I took part in collecting the bodies and burying the bodies. We just buried them in a farm. We buried 50 to 60 bodies in single graves,” said one resident.
He said he had survived by hiding in a ditch, but had lost four siblings and three cousins in the attack.
The other resident said the attackers were ethnic Oromos from a group called the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA).
“It was a massacre of Amharas,” he said, adding that he had survived by hiding in a forest and that he had heard the attackers speaking in the Oromo language.
On Sunday, the head of Ethiopia’s state-appointed human rights commission had said the OLA was responsible for “deadly attack and destruction” in Oromiya, without giving details.
The OLA denied responsibility for the attack.
Oromiya regional spokesperson Hailu Adugna, Abiy’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum and government spokesman Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment. Ethiopian military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane referred questions to Legesse.
The OLA is an outlawed splinter group of the Oromo Liberation Front, a formerly banned opposition group that returned from exile after Abiy took office in 2018.
The OLA formed an alliance last year with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has been fighting the federal government in the northern region. There was no suggestion of TPLF involvement in Saturday’s attack in Gimbi.