Rebel fighters take over Ethiopian county home to 25,000 residents: EHRC

A rebel group has taken control of a country in western Ethiopia that is home to about 25,000 people, reportedly killing civilians and abducting public servants, according to the country’s Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The state-appointed body said in a statement that it received reports that Sedal Woreda, in the Kamashi zone of the Benishangul-Gumuz region, was “under near-full control of an armed group as of April 19”.

The commission did not specify which armed group it was referring to.

“Residents who have fled the area told EHRC that the armed group has burned down and looted public and private property and that the woreda (county) administration and local police have fled the area. There are also reports that civilians have been killed and public servants have been kidnapped,” the commission said in its statement.

“According to residents and officials EHRC spoke to, a small contingent of the regional security force in the vicinity is outnumbered,” the commission said, urging the federal government in Addis Ababa to deploy security forces to the region “to prevent further loss of life”.

With a population belonging to a myriad of ethnic groups, including the Gumuz, Agaws, Shinasas and the Amhar, Benishangul-Gumuz is home to the strategically important Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Ethiopia says the multibillion-dollar project built on the Blue Nile is key to its economic development and power generation, but downstream countries Egypt and Sudan view the dam as a potential threat, fearing disruptions in water supplies from the Nile River.

In recent months, Benishangul-Gumuz has been hit by a surge of ethnic violence including an attack in December that killed more than 200 civilians.

It is one of the several flashpoints across the country of more than 100 million people where ethnic rivalries over land, power and resources have ignited before delayed national elections scheduled for June.

As it battles to contain multiple outbreaks of ethnic and political violence, the government on Monday declared a state of emergency in the southern part of the Amhara region. The move followed three days of violence in the town of Ataye in which an unspecified number of people were killed.