THIOPIA has been plunged into further instability after armed men executed scores of women and children in an attack on Sunday which has been blamed by officials on a separatist group active in the region.
The killings in the Gawa Qanqa village in Guliso District, West Wellega, have been blamed on the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), an insurgent group known for kidnappings and bomb attacks in the south and western parts of the country.
The death toll is unclear, with Amnesty International reporting 54 deaths after speaking to survivors, an increase on the earlier figure of 32 given by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
According to the EHRC the victims, who were members of Ethiopia’s Amhara ethnic group, “were dragged from their homes and taken to a school, where they were killed,” in a “massacre” that involved up to 60 “armed and unarmed assailants.”
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed condemned the attack as “heartbreaking.”
“Ethiopia’s enemies are vowing either to rule the country or ruin it, and they are doing everything they can to achieve this. One of their tactics is to arm civilians and carry out barbaric attacks based on identity,” he said.
But questions are being asked as to why the government suddenly withdrew security forces from the region just a day before the attack, despite the volatile security situation.
Survivors said it paved the way for OLA fighters to round up civilians and massacre them.
Amnesty spokesman Deprose Muchena said: “The fact that this horrendous incident occurred shortly after government troops abruptly withdrew from the area in unexplained circumstances raises questions that must be answered.”
Opposition party the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA) slammed the government for failing to protect civilians.
Fears of war and the possible break-up of Ethiopia were raised last week as the northern Tigray region’s rejection of a military appointment threatened to spark a conflict.
The powerful northern region defied the capital Addis Ababa in September by holding elections deemed “illegitimate and unconstitutional.”
Federal lawmakers have demanded that funding is cut to the Tigray parliament in a bid to bring it back in line.
Last week a report from the International Crisis Group warned that the stand-off “could trigger a damaging conflict that may even rip the Ethiopian state asunder.”