ADDIS ABABA – The European Union called Wednesday for an independent probe into clashes between two of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic groups, which officials say left at least 61 dead last week alone.
There have been a string of recent clashes over the border between the two ethnically demarcated Somali and Oromia federal regions, “causing many casualties and the destruction of properties”, said the EU.
The cause of the latest violence is not clear but it has raised concerns of growing ethnic divisions in Africa’s second most-populous country.
In a statement the EU called for “independent investigations (into) all acts of violence.”
On Thursday and Friday last week, scores lost their lives in the West Hararghe region near the border between the Somali and Oromia states — with both sides giving different death tolls.
On Sunday, the spokesman for the Oromia state government Addisu Arega Kitessa said armed men had attacked Oromos on Thursday, killing 29 people and burning down hundreds of homes.
A day later 32 Somalis living nearby were killed in retaliation, he wrote on his personal Facebook account.
An open letter from Somali elders to the government and international rights groups mentioned “200 killed” on Friday in an “ethnic cleansing campaign” which they say has been under way since 2004, but has intensified in the past three years.
The letter recalled that the “Ethiopian Somali community… traditionally lived in western Hararghe of Ethiopia for many centuries. Because of this, more than 90 percent of us speak Oromia and not the Somali language.”
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn addressed the nation on state television on Sunday, offering his condolences for what he referred to as a “mass killing”.
The EU said the clashes were “deeply worrying, in particular as regards their increasingly ethnic nature” and welcomed a decision by Hailemariam to set up a task force to probe the killings.
For over two years Ethiopia’s government has faced unprecedented social, economic and political protests, leaving hundreds dead and prompting government to install a 10-month state of emergency that was lifted in August.