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News: Rights group reports surge in violence over governance in Gamo Zone

Arba Minch City (Photo: Arba Minch City Communication Office/Facebook)

Addis Abeba – The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has reported a significant intensification of hostilities and acts of violence within certain localities of the Gamo Zone, specifically in the Arba Minch Zuria district of the recently inaugurated South Ethiopian region.

According to the rights group, this upsurge in conflict is attributed to a protracted dispute concerning the administrative organization of the area.

Based on the EHRC’s statement released today, four Kebeles—namely Elgo, Wozaka, Demble, and Chamo 01—situated in the Arba Minch Zuria district have intermittently expressed opposition to their governance under the Gamo Zone since 2017. These kebeles have been advocating for recognition as a distinct special district.

Interviews conducted by the EHRC with residents and local stakeholders reveal a gradual increase in tension due to the ongoing disagreement over the administrative configuration. Individuals challenging the current governance model allege that they have been subjected to systematic human rights abuses and discrimination as a consequence of their position.

In contrast, authorities from the Gamo Zone argue that yielding to such demands could compromise the cohesiveness of the current local governance structures and potentially lead to instability in the region.

The situation deteriorated markedly in October 2023 following the death of a detainee in police custody within Elgo Kebele. The incident incited acts of violence resulting in fatalities and injuries on both sides, in addition to property destruction.

Subsequent altercations related to the governance dispute have perpetuated additional loss of life, bodily harm, arbitrary detentions, and property damage, adversely affecting both civilians and security forces. The ongoing strife has also precipitated the displacement of residents, who now find themselves in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

Daniel Bekele, the Chief Commissioner of the EHRC, has expressed grave concern regarding the continued tensions and relentless violence over recent months. He has called upon all involved parties to engage in concerted efforts to de-escalate the situation through respectful and constructive dialogue, as well as lawful and non-violent actions.

According to him, the Commission has offered to provide guidance to local authorities and disputants towards achieving a peaceful resolution. Upon concluding its investigation, the EHRC intends to issue a detailed report to the public concerning the circumstances.

In August 2023, Addis Standard reported that confrontations near Arba Minch had resulted in a minimum of 17 deaths and numerous injuries. The outbreak of violence was in response to a contentious administrative proposal to integrate the area within the municipal boundaries of Arba Minch city.

According to sources, the conflict was sparked when residents set fire to mattresses belonging to security forces stationed at an adjacent camp. The security forces are alleged to have engaged in indiscriminate shooting at civilians, which led to reciprocal gunfire between local militia and the security personnel. AS

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