Dhe northern region of Tigray is far from being pacified when violence flares up in another part of Ethiopia. More than 200 people were believed to have been killed in a massacre in the west of the country last week. According to reports from authorities, human rights organizations and the media, large numbers of armed men attacked Bekoji village in Metekel area on Wednesday night. Houses and fields were burned down and residents were murdered in their sleep. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced on Saturday that 25 women and a six-month-old toddler were among the 207 dead.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who had only visited the Benishangul-Gumuz region, where the village is located, the day before, wrote of a “tragedy” after the massacre and announced that he had sent units of the army to the area. The authorities later said that 42 men involved in the attack had been killed in skirmishes.
The security forces came late
It was initially unclear who these attackers were. The victims belong to different ethnic groups – the two largest ethnic groups in the country, Oromo and Amhara, as well as the Shinasha. Amnesty International reported that several survivors had blamed members of the Gumuz ethnic group for the bloodbath. Violence has occurred in Benishangul-Gumuz since 2019; As recently as mid-November, 34 people were killed in an attack on a bus.
The EHRC criticized the government for doing too little to protect the population in the region. In Ethiopian media reports it was said that the residents of Bekoji had “repeatedly” called the security forces for help, but that they only arrived after the attackers left the village around noon. The EHRC noted that security forces stationed in the area to attend the Prime Minister’s visit had withdrawn the evening before the attack. During his visit to Metekel, Abiy Ahmed discussed the ongoing violence with citizens and promised to improve the security situation.
The Prime Minister later suggested that the TPLF could have something to do with the massacre, ie the “Tigray Liberation Front”, against which he has been fighting militarily since the beginning of November. Abiy wrote on Twitter that it was “the goal of our enemies” to disperse the forces that the government is using against the TPLF. But they will not succeed in this.
UN complains about human rights violations
Whatever is true about this account, the event throws a spotlight on the existing tensions in Ethiopia, which may even have intensified after the escalation in Tigray. The country, the second most populous in Africa with around 110 million inhabitants, is home to dozens of ethnic groups; In addition, there are differences that have to do with lifestyle, religion, place of residence or education. When Abiy Ahmed took office in April 2018, who pursued a pronounced reform policy, many of these tensions emerged, which had previously been suppressed for years by the EPRDF coalition that had ruled since 1991 (in which the TPLF played the dominant role).
The conflict between the Prime Minister and the TPLF, which had built up since 2019, escalated on November 4 with the entry of the national army into Tigray, where the party was in power. At the end of November, Abiy announced the capture of the regional capital; In mid-December he himself traveled to Mekele, where a transitional government was installed. He announced that traffic and communications links, which had been completely cut off with the start of the military operation, would be restored and humanitarian aid permitted, a demand that had also been made ever more emphatic internationally.
However, there are apparently still restrictions – at least that was criticized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, shortly before Christmas. She demanded that humanitarian workers have access to all parts of Tigray. Bachelet also spoke of reports of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, such as artillery fire in populated areas, attacks on civilians, extrajudicial executions and looting.
The fighting in Tigray is not over
Also, the fighting in Tigray is reportedly not over; the TPLF will likely resort to local resistance in the mountainous area. Aid organizations assume that there will be more refugees; More than 50,000 Ethiopians have already fled to Sudan and others are on the run within the country. Perhaps in connection with this, tensions on the border with Sudan have recently increased; the government in Khartoum announced on Sunday that the Sudanese army had defended agricultural areas in Al Fashqa against Ethiopian attempts at appropriation.
The government in Addis Ababa, meanwhile, demonstrated a will to normalcy by setting the date for the parliamentary and regional elections on June 5, 2021. The postponement of the election originally planned for summer 2020 due to the corona pandemic had caused the conflict between Abiy and the TPLF to escalate. In the Tigray region, according to the decision, there will be no elections for the time being.