BY SIYANNE MEKONNEN
Addis Abeba, June 11, 2021 (Addis Standard)– The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) yesterday released another statement reiterating calls on the international community to press for immediate withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Oromia and Benishangul- Gumuz regions. The party spoke of a ‘new large scale deployment’ of Eritrean Soldiers in Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz Regions. “Our information from tangible sources shows that more than two divisions of Eritrean armies estimated to 30,000 soldiers had been recently deployed to Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz via different directions.” OLF said.
In its previous statement the OLF detailed the brutalizing of civilians in Horro Guduru, Kellem Wollega, West Wollega, Guji, and Borana Zones of Oromia and the Metekel zone in Benishangul Gumuz region. The OLF said it has ‘tangible evidence’ it received from local residents, allegations denied by the Oromia Regional Government. The statement by the OLF was followed by a report where a resident of Horo Guduru Zone, Abay Choman woreda said that ‘armed forces dressed in ENDF uniforms and speak Tigrinya’ were persecuting civilians.
“OUR INFORMATION FROM TANGIBLE SOURCES SHOWS THAT MORE THAN TWO DIVISIONS OF ERITREAN ARMIES ESTIMATED TO 30,000 SOLDIERS HAD BEEN RECENTLY DEPLOYED TO OROMIA AND BENISHANGUL-GUMUZ VIA DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS.”
According to yesterday’s statement, ‘heavily armed Battalions of Eritrean soldiers together with Amhara militias and ENDF had been deployed to Oromia since the beginning of April 2021. The statement went on explaining that starting on June 5, 2021, freshly deployed Eritrean forces are deployed in different zones in the Oromia and Benishangul- Gumuz regions. The party also touched on ‘finalizing the implementation of the formation of Oromia Regional National Transitional Government (ORNTG)’.
The OLF’s assertions are in line with the testimony of a resident of Guji zone who spoke to Addis Standard on conditions of anonymity for fear of reprisal. The eye witness who is a civil servant in the town of Nagelle Borana spoke of harassment and human rights violations suffered by the community at the hands of people he recognized as Eritrean Soldiers. He recalled the most recent clashes between armed rebels and government security forces in Guji and Borana zones. According to the eye witness, in addition to forces of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), Oromia Special forces and local militia, he said that there are other security forces who speak neither Afaan Oromo or Amharic. “They speak in Tigrinya and they have been deployed to other woredas surrounding Nagelle Borana since last week” he said, adding, “They wear the uniforms of the ENDF troops but we hear them speak Tigrinya as they go around bars, cafes and other institutions in the town.”
“WE CAN’T CALL AN AMBULANCE FOR WOMEN IN LABOR BECAUSE ALL OF OUR CELL PHONES ARE CONFISCATED.” WITNESS
The eyewitness detailed the toll of the continued clashes on the livelihood of the community. He spoke about the community in Gumi Eldalo woreda which is located 60 Kilometers from Nagelle Borana. Most of the community members of Malka Guba kebele in the woreda have fled their homes, he said, “During these operations, the pastoralist community have lost their houses and livestock.” The ‘operations’ are aimed at ‘hunting down OLA’, according to him, the crackdown on civilians in the operations feature burning houses and looting properties. He also spoke about a decision made by the local administration to prohibit residents from holding cellular phones to prevent relaying of information to the OLA. “In Yabello, Nagelle Borana, Bullehora, Liban, Gumi Edalo, Goro Dola, Tuluferda, Arero, Wachito woredas, holding a cellphone means a jail sentence,” he said, adding “Even students who are caught with a cellphone are expelled from school.” In his testimonies the eyewitness shed light on the situation of the community, who according to him has been prohibited from means of communication for over Eight months to the point where it is difficult to access medical emergency services. “We can’t call an ambulance for women in labor because all of our cell phones are confiscated.”
He further elaborated the human rights violations carried out on the community using ‘hunting down Shene’ as a pretext. Residents who are accused of supporting the OLA or being affiliated with the armed group face many forms of harassment which force some communities to flee to neighboring country Kenya ‘to save their lives’. He also divulged the mass detentions of civilians who remain under custody for months without being brought to trial. The salaries of civil servants who are in detention are cut for months without any explanation as per the attestation of the Nagelle Borana Resident.
In a related development, the Oromia Police Commission released a statement in which it declared victory in a military operation it said took against ‘Shanee’ (a term government officials use to refer to the Oromo Liberation Army). The Oromia Police commission said that it killed 95 and injured ‘many’ in the Four day long operation. The operation was undertaken with the collaboration of Oromia special forces in East Oromia and South Oromia zones, the statement said.
The ‘special operation’ was carried out in Guji and Borana zones between June 1 and 4, 2021 according to the statement. “A large number of weapons were seized” the statement read, further describing the type of weapons as Bren, Klashinkov, SKS and M14. Additionally, motorcycles, medications, food rations and cooking utensils were seized from the scene, as stated by the Oromia Police Commission.
SIMILARLY ON JUNE 4, 2021, THE OLA, THROUGH ITS SPOKESPERSON ANNOUNCED VICTORY IN ‘6 DAYS OF CLASHES IN BORANA AND GUJI’, ADDING, “SIGNIFICANT NUMBERS OF WEAPONS HAVE BEEN CAPTURED.”
The Oromia police commission thanked the community for offering support in providing information and other means. It also reiterated the security forces’ commitment to ensure peace and law enforcement. The commission extended gratitude to the security forces as well, “Police officers, local militias and members of the national defense forces are a part of this glorious victory.” the statement read, adding “We would also like to thank Somali Regional Police, especially in Dawa and Liban Zones for their cooperation.”
Addis Standard reached out to the commander of Oromia Police Commission to inquire about the nature of the involvement of Somali Regional Police in the operation. Commander Ararsa Merdasa denied having knowledge of the statement while the head of peace and security bureau of Borana zone, Jarso Boru told Addis Standard that the Somali Regional Police fended off OLA fighters who were ‘trying to escape’ to Somali Region territories. “The involvement of the Somali Police was limited to their jurisdiction.” Jarso said, and assured that there were no civilian casualties in the operation. Similarly on June 4, 2021, the OLA, through its spokesperson announced victory in ‘6 days of clashes in Borana and Guji’, adding, “Significant numbers of weapons have been captured.”
The Guji zone has been a scene of armed violence resulting in the death and displacement of many. The continued armed violence affected the humanitarian access in the area resulting in the restriction of movements and operations for humanitarian organizations. A report by the UNOCHA released in May 2021 revealed that aid workers have been subjected to intimidation, physical assault, and detained by security forces as well as unidentified military elements.
The administrator of Gujii Zone,Tadele Uddoo told Addis Standard that there have been no deployment of Eritrean troops in Guji zone. He said “ Yes, measures were taken on bandits. But we have no knowledge of Eritrean troops in the area.” Addis Standard’s repeated attempts to reach out to the Commander of Oromia Special Forces, head of Oromia Region Communication Bureau, Borana zone administration as well as the Commander of Metekel Zonal Police Commission were all to no avail.