At least 100 people have died in a deadly attack in western Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia early Wednesday, an area bedeviled by ethnic violence.
Belay Wajera, a farmer in the western town of Bulen, told Reuters he counted 82 dead bodies in a field near his home after Wednesday’s raid. He and his family awoke to the sound of gunshots and ran out of their home as men shouted “catch them”, he said. His wife and five of his children were shot dead, he was shot in the buttocks while four other children escaped and are now missing.
Africa’s second-most populous nation has been grappling with regular outbreaks of deadly violence since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was appointed in 2018 and accelerated democratic reforms that loosened the state’s iron grip on regional rivalries.
Elections due next year have further inflamed simmering tensions over land, power and resources.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Thursday said he had deployed forces to the western Benishangul-Gumuz region.
“The massacre of civilians in Benishangul-Gumuz region is very tragic,” Abiy said on Twitter. “The government, to solve the root causes of the problem, has deployed a necessary force.
Soon state-affiliated Fana TV reported that the Ethiopian military killed 42 armed men accused of attacking the western Benishangul-Gumuz region. Government forces seized bows and arrows and other weapons from the armed men, Fana said in its report.
The attack came a day after Abiy, the military chief of staff and other senior federal officials visited the region to urge calm after several deadly incidents in recent months
In a separate part of the country, Ethiopia’s military has been fighting rebels in the northern Tigray region for over six weeks now that has displaced close to 950,000 people.
Ethiopia is also fighting an insurgency in the Oromiya region and faces long-running security threats from Somali Islamist militants along its porous eastern border.
The Benishangul-Gumuz region is home to several ethnic groups including the Gumuz people. But in recent years farmers and businessmen from the neighbouring Amhara region have begun moving into the area, prompting some Gumuz to complain that fertile land has been taken.
Some Amhara leaders are now saying that some of the land in the region rightfully belongs to them and angered Gumuz people.