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BBC Amharic - Residents Say Security Forces Killed a Large Number of People in East Wollega



Disclaimer: This is an English translation of an Amharic report taken from BBC Amharic and is intended solely for information purposes.


BBC Amharic - Residents say security forces killed a large number of people in East Wollega


March 22, 2024


Last week on March 15, 2024 (Megabit 6, 2016 EC) government forces killed a large number of people attending a religious celebration in Andodae Dicho Kebele of Gida Ayana Woreda in East Wollega Zone of Oromia Region according to eyewitnesses that spoke to BBC.


The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it received information about the killing and said it had assigned experts to investigate.


The commission’s Oromia Region branch bureau head Ato Abdisa Lemaessa said they did not have detailed information about the attack and resulting casualties but told BBC preparations were underway to gather the necessary information and conduct investigations.


The head of security in East Wollega Zone said the alleged killing did not take place in the area, denying the incident.


One resident in the area who opted to remain anonymous for their safety said government forces that were members of the national defense force carried out a killing of over 40 people attending the Megabit Abo celebration “without reason”.


The killing started on the afternoon of Friday, March 15th, 2024 (Megabit 6, 2016 EC) when the security forces approached a 16 year old child that was celebrating the holiday and forcibly took him out of his house before killing him.


Following the adolescent’s killing local residents asked “why” and a disagreement took place after which the security forces opened fire on them according to residents.


One religious father who attended the religious holiday said “the killed victim was a student, he was previously displaced but returned here, he traveled on foot from Gojjam, when locals asked ‘what did he do to be killed like that’ they opened fire” describing how the killing started.


Another eyewitness who verified what happened saying following the disagreement government forces opened fire, adding the people attending the religious celebration began running in all directions to save their lives.


Another resident said the attack “was sudden” and cited local registered firearm holders briefly fired in the confusion but when they realized they were government forces they immediately stopped firing.


The gun owners and kebele residents who realized the gunfire was opened by the army, attempted to run and escape according to residents.


Another resident who escaped the area where the gunfire was to save their life said two of their friends and others who were not able to escape were victimized in the attack.


At the time when confusion broke out I ran relying on my legs to help me escape and I was able to save my life. Those that could not run including the physically weak and women were killed.” 


In the attack between March 15 and 16 (Friday and Saturday) in Andodae Dicho Kebele and neighboring area called Ali Got the death toll “reached 42” according to the religious father who was a resident of the kebele, the bodies of “those killed together” are being discovered in various others.


Another resident on their end said, “they say bodies are being uncovered by the day here and there. Up to Tuesday (March 19th) the deaths of 33 people were heard. Now it is being said this death toll has increased. Residents are recovering bodies of missing persons, and there are still some that are missing.”


In the attack two brothers working physical laborer were killed according to a local resident that spoke to BBC saying the killing was carried out after someone reported a “sighting of a ፀጉረ ልውጥ person”.


The resident said the two brothers were both married with children and were killed when they went to their sister’s house for the religious celebration.


They reported hearing the news the following Saturday, March 16 but efforts to retrieve the bodies were unsuccessful as “the national defense forces refused to allow it”.


A local elder and religious father came and was trapped by the heavy shelling (ከባድ መሳሪያ አጥምደዋል). Then they threatened us saying, ‘you will not pick up the bodies, we will kill you too.’” The source explained they were not able to even conduct ceremonial burials.


Since the day they heard of the killing our mother and father have been delirious, the family is very hurt. Not being able to recover the bodies has also hurt us…the parents still have not been told about the circumstances behind how they were killed. We told them we coordinated to bury them there [the place where the killing took place].”


The families have been unable to sit still as they grieve the deaths of the victims.


The family member of the victims said it was difficult to say exactly how many victims were killed in the attack, “that is what happened on Friday, and on the following day (March 16) a large number of soldiers came” and many people were “taken out of their houses and executed.”


Residents said killings and confiscation of firearms was conducted during house to house searches after it was said “there is an armed force”. Enat Party issued a statement regarding the killing of the peaceful residents and it said, “the national defense force carried out revenge killings against farmers after one of its members was killed.”


The party in its statement indicated 16 people were killed and identified 10 of the victims by name.


Residents and the party stated those killed by government forces were farmers.


Among the killed victims 15 received burials according to the religious father who added the burials took place across four churches.


BBC asked residents how they knew the attacks were carried out by the national defense force, and residents stated there was such a force stationed in the area and that this force could be distinguished by their uniforms, weapons and their vehicles.


Though it has been over a week since the attack was carried out, tensions continue in the area according to residents and locals even now, “are in fear, and have left their homes and are in the surrounding forests.”


One resident described their fear as follows, “we do not know whether they will come today or tomorrow, only God knows…starting from last Friday we have taken to the forests so it has been over a week.”


BBC asked the East Wollega Zone security head Colonel Lemaessa Deraessa about the alleged killing, and the colonel said there were government security forces keeping peace in the area, but denied the killings saying, “the national defense force is not a force that opens fire on innocent people.”


The security head said, “there has been no such attack carried out by the national defense force” and called the attack “is a lie” but refrained from commenting on the current situation in the area.


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