Following the killing of 31 people in Bench Sheko Zone’s Gura Farda woreda of Southwestern Ethiopia, security forces in the area have detained 54 individuals suspected of taking part in the attacks.
According to Nebiyu Esaias, Southern Region’s Police Commissioner, seven of the detainees are government officials while two are police officers.
The killings that took place in three kebeles in Gura Farda woreda were followed by a mass exodus of residents to nearby vicinities leaving their homes, cattle and farms behind. Now, more than 4,600 people are taking shelter within school compounds and some hosted by family members.
About two weeks apart from the attacks in Benshangul Gumuz’s Metekel Zone in the Northwestern part of Ethiopia, the Gura Farda attacks resonated across the nation and many denounced the frequent attacks on civilians by calling for the government to safeguard its citizens’ constitutional rights to life.
The attack that claimed the lives of 31 individuals in Shugi, Benika and Wejemta kebeles were carried out in two rounds; one on October 18, 2020 in Shugi and the others on October 21, 2020.
Displaced people from the above places that talked to The Reporter over the phone said they were told by security officials to stay put following the first attack that killed 13 and they were promised peace and stability. But a day after they buried their loved ones, another attack took place pushing the fatality to 31.
“We had a meeting with the security forces on Tuesday following a commotion at the funeral of the deceased. But the security forces and the local administration assured us of safety and we returned home. This was to no avail and we lost many more apart from the burning of houses, loss of our harvest and cattle,” Assefa Mekuanent, a displaced resident of the woreda lamented.
Assefa left his 20 hectares of coffee farm behind when he fled the area where he lived for over 22 years. He was also critical of the administration’s decision to forcefully disarm them 12 years ago, which he said could have saved their lives, had it not been done. Now, he begs the government to take the required measures and return them to their livelihood, asking permission to be armed.
“We ask for the Defense Forces to establish a camp site nearby. They should also ensure rule of law,” he stressed.
Another displaced person with a family of five, Dessalegn Teshome, said he saved his life by hiding and recalled that they have been reporting the perceived threat to the administration’s security forces. But he said they did not give their concerns due attention.
“There were cases of detained suspects. But the detained were immediately released without a thorough investigation for lack of reliable witnesses,” he complained.
He said that until Friday this week, their vicinities were burning and it could not be stopped for reasons he does not understand. Although they left many of their cattle back home, some who have managed to bring them along are selling them for 2,000 birr, which is far below the original 15,000 birr price for an ox. Dessalegn said that he is not sure when they can return back to their homes.
The Police Commissioner, on the other hand, said that they are planning to return displaced residents back within two to three weeks.
“The federal police and military forces have been deployed to the area of attacks and we are holding discussions with the displaced as well as residents in nearby vicinities. First, we are working to get rid of the attackers. The discussions are helping in this regard and people have been cooperative in the process of apprehending the suspects,” Commissioner Nebiyu said.
After returning all of the displaced to their homes, there will be measures to enable the society protect itself by reforming the local militia and creating a strong link to the police and security forces, he added.
The displaced people who talked to The Reporter said that they are grateful to the local people who have supplied them with food items, drinking water, clothing as well as feed to the cattle they managed to transport along with them. However, except for the shelters provided in schools, they have not yet received any support from the local government.
A committee comprising federal, regional and local authorities had been setup to sustainably solve the problem following a visit to the area by Frealem Shibabaw, State Minister of Peace, Endeshaw Tasew, Federal Police Commissioner, Adem Mohammed (Gen.), Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian Defense Forces, Ristu Yirdaw, Deputy President of the Southern Region as well as Tagese Chafo, Speaker of the House of Peoples’ Representatives in the aftermath of the events in Gura Farda.