‘Killing without any reason’: Deaths in rural Ethiopia spark outcry

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‘Killing without any reason’: Deaths in rural Ethiopia spark outcry

Robbie COREY-BOULETAFP
A government campaign to disarm Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley has led to indiscriminate shootings, jailings and beatings, say ethnic leaders A government campaign to disarm Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley has led to indiscriminate shootings, jailings and beatings, say ethnic leaders (AFP Photo/MICHAEL TEWELDE)

Lower Omo Valley (Ethiopia) (AFP) – For decades, herders in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley have relied on guns to fend off rivals as well as hyenas and lions roaming the forests and plains.

But over the past month, security forces have embarked on a campaign of forced disarmament that pastoralist leaders say has been accompanied by shooting of civilians, mass detentions and beatings.

Witness accounts from the Lower Omo Valley bolster critics who contend that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed — named the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize — is presiding over a deteriorating security situation, worsened by the actions of the military and police.

The violence is unfolding ahead of elections next year in one of the country’s most volatile and ethnically diverse areas: the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region.

Elders from the Bodi community, the main group earmarked for disarmament in the Lower Omo Valley, told AFP nearly 40 people had been killed as of mid-October but the toll could be far higher.

Officials deny this account and defend the disarmament campaign as crucial for peace in this sensitive region.

“They are killing without any reason,” said Shegedin, a Bodi elder who was detained for several days and asked that his full name not be used because he feared reprisals.

“They just go to the villages, and if you run they start shooting.”

Government and security officials in Jinka, the administrative centre for the South Omo zone, said the disarmament campaign was necessary to secure state development projects including sugar plantations in the area.

But as reports of abuses multiply, human rights groups and researchers who work in the region are calling for investigations.

“The accounts I have seen are sufficiently shocking and come from sufficiently reliable sources to make it imperative that they are investigated by an internationally respected human rights organisation,” said David Turton, an anthropologist at the University of Oxford who has worked in the region for 50 years.

Failure to investigate “will only add to suspicions that the accounts we’ve heard are in fact accurate”, he said.

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