Violence Follows Ethiopian Army Deployment to Eastern Region

Officials in Ethiopia’s Somali region say 29 people were killed as a result of violence Saturday in the regional capital, Jigjiga.

Khadar Abdi Ismail, a senior official with the region’s ruling Ethiopian Somali People’s Democratic Party told VOA Somali he blames federal government forces for the deaths.

Soldiers were deployed Friday in Jigjiga after an apparent rift between local authorities and the national government.  The soldiers surrounded the city and fought with regional paramilitary forces.

Ismail said the violence Saturday stemmed from public anger of what he called “the illegal entry of the dangerously-armed troops”.  That anger led to widespread violent riots in the city and the targeting of non-Somali ethnic communities.  Shops were looted, buildings were torched and at least one church was destroyed, according to residents.

Ismail said 21 of the dead were ethnic Somalis and eight were from non-Somali ethnic communities.

Ethiopia’s military has vowed to take the “necessary measures … to restore order in the Ethiopian Somali regional state”.   In a statement posted with the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporation, the army said the violence is “unacceptable”.

The government recently accused regional officials of carrying out human rights abuses

There are several thousand regional paramilitary fighters known as the Liyu Police, a force created in 2007 primarily to quell the rebellion of the Ogaden National Liberation Front.  Liyu Police have been accused of committing brutality and torture against supporters of ONLF in their counter-insurgency operations in the ethnic Somali region.

Jigjiga was mostly calm Sunday, although no truce between the army and regional officials has been reported.  Ethiopian defense forces are stationed at the airport and two other bases outside the town, while the town is largely controlled by the Liyu Police.

Meanwhile, the President of the breakaway republic of Somaliland Muse Bihi Abdi called for calm.  He said, “If anything happens on the other side [of the border with Ethiopia] we should not be overpowered with emotions.”  He said the safety of Ethiopian nationals living in Somaliland must be protected.”

Ethiopia’s Somali region was the first area visited by new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed after was selected by the ruling party last April

At the time of the visit Ahmed was trying to ease tensions between the ethnic Somali and Oromo communities, which have been engaged in deadly tit-for-tat attacks that have claimed the lives of dozens of people.


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