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Analysis: Civilians in Oromo Special Zone of Amhara Region caught in crossfires, face looming humanitarian crisis

Oromo Special Zone, Amhara Regional State

By Dereje Gonfa @DerejeGonfa 

Addis Abeba, November 24/2021 – The conflict between the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) and Tigrayan forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) expanded to Amhara and Afar region and reached Amhara region’s Oromo Special zone earlier in November. Since then Addis Standard has received multiple reports of civilian casualties and displacement in the ongoing war between government forces and forces loyal to the designated terrorist groups TPLF and OLA.  

Although Addis Standard’s attempts to establish contact were challenging due to communication blackout, some residents managed to make a trip to areas with network coverage to and share their testimonies. One of the main complaints registered by witnesses was the destruction of their livelihoods. Temam Hassen (name changed for security reasons), is a resident of Bati town told Addis Standard,“There is displacement, shelling, looting and gross human rights violations taking place.” Temam also spoke of air strikes that claimed the lives of 37 civilians and wounded 42 others. He said, “A recent air strike carried out hit areas far from the frontline. It was not in an active combat area and claimed the lives of civilians.”

Temam talked about the intensity of the fighting and the involvement of many armed wings, “There are a lot of fighters involved, consisting of armed groups, militias, special forces and the ENDF. There is also widespread looting.” He insisted on the need for an independent investigation to identify who is responsible for the killings and looting, “We want  human rights organizations to investigate who is responsible for the death of civilians and looting.”

“A recent air strike carried out was far from the frontline. It was not in an active combat area and it claimed the lives of civilians.”

A resident of Bati town

Hamdia Seid, a resident of Dawa Chaffa woreda corroborated Temam’s statement, explaining that  airstrikes carried out by the ENDF were indiscriminate. The mother of Three recounted, “We heard someone yelling ‘kill them all’ in Amharic. They shot and killed an elderly who was selling Khat by the side of the road. We don’t know which armed group did that.” She continued, “There were women and girls collecting water from a public tap when the air strike took place, Nine of them were killed. I have seen people’s houses burning as well.” Hamdia said the fighting has moved away from their area, but people are scared to go outside and carry on their daily activities. “The fighting has now moved from our area. We only hear heavy artillery. We are scared to go outside in case an airstrike hits.”

“We heard someone yelling ‘kill them all’ in Amharic.”

A resident of Dawa Chaffa woreda

Umer Ahmed, (name changed for security reasons), is a resident of Kemise who fled the fighting. He said “Fighting has been going on for over two weeks and the situation in the area is becoming dangerous for civilians,” adding, “The situation around Kemise is dire. Since fighting started  weeks ago, roads are blocked and basic services such as electricity, telecommunication, healthcare service, and banks have been disrupted.” He continued, “People are fleeing their homes, because there are killings, lootings and women are being raped.” 

Umer, like Temam and Hamida explained that the perpetrators are not known and numbers of victims are yet to be verified. He said, “I know a lot of civilians were killed,” pleading, “We beg for all the parties to the conflict to refrain from indiscriminate attacks.”

The federal government confirmed carrying out an airstrike around Bati in a statement released by the federal state of emergency command post. It also listed the ENDF, Afar Special forces, local militias and the air force, which were, according to the statement, ‘engaged with the enemy.’

“We beg for all the parties to the conflict to refrain from indiscriminate attacks.”

A resident of Kemissie

However, the head of the federal government communication service Legesse Tulu (PhD) denied the targeting of civilians, “The rumors of the airstrike targeted civilians are false.” He argued, “The federal government has no reason to attack civilians. The federal government targets the terrorists who operate in the mountains.”

The residents of the zone are also faced with humanitarian needs resulting from the communications blackout and the disruption of basic services. The head of Federal Government communication bureau also confirmed to Addis Standard the communication black out in Dawa Chaffa, Artuma Farsi woredas and surrounding towns. Hamdia, who is a merchant, detailed in her testimony how market activities are halted, due to the fighting and how it is affecting their livelihoods. Temam on his part said, “We need support from international and local humanitarian organizations.”

The residents of the zone are also faced with humanitarian needs resulting from the communications blackout and the disruption of basic services.

The spokesperson of the Amhara region emergency relief and food security bureau, Eyasu Mesfin, shares concerns raised by residents. He confirmed to Addis Standard the disruption in communication and basic services in areas where there is an active fighting as well as those that are not under the government control. Eyasu called on the international humanitarian organisations to support the people in the affected area while adding “The government is facilitating international humanitarian organisations to support the people in the areas that are not under government control.”

According to Eyasu, the delivery of aid has yet to reach those areas. He said “The conflict affected areas in the region are in need of food and medicine. I call on the international humanitarian organization to help  the people in need.” The federal government on its part said, “There is not much the government can do in areas where there is active fighting and controlled by rebel forces.” AS

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