News: Civilians killed following intense fighting between rebel group, government forces in Nekemte, western Oromia region

Nekemte, the capital city of East Wollega zone of the Oromia regional state is located at approximately 317 km from Ethiopia’s capital Addis Abeba.

By Getahun Legesse @birmaduu2

Addis Abeba – Residents say civilians have been killed following an intense fighting between fighters of rebel group, Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and the government forces in Nekemte city, the capital of East Wollega zone, Oromia regional state, on Sunday 06 November.

Two residents of the city who spoke to Addis Standard on conditions of anonymity said the clash started early morning after several fighters of the OLA entered the city fighting and were able to partly control the city, which is approximately 317 km from the capital Addis Abeba.

“They [members of OLA] entered the city [Nekemte] at around 6.30 AM [local time] via a route from the western direction. They broke into a prison located in kebele 05 and set prisoners free. They also seized [Oromia] special force’s campsite located in Kumsa Moroda [museum] and confiscated weapons. Meanwhile, the government forces located in different sites in the town also started offensive and there was a heavy fighting between the two. The fighting continued until after 12: 00 PM,” the first resident said. The resident confirmed that the government forces retook full control of the town in the afternoon.

However, civilians were killed during the clash between the government forces and the rebel groups. “I cannot tell the exact number of casualties as we are still restricted in our houses. However, I know at least two people have died, which I confirmed from my friends on the phone. The government forces have carried out aerial offensives and we suspect there will be more casualties,” the witness said adding that after gaining full control of the city, government security forces have been hunting down residents whom they suspected of having associations with the rebel fighters.

“The security forces are hunting down residents door to door. They are taking measures against residents who were seen with the rebel forces on the day. I heard that they have also killed some of the suspects,” he said.

A second resident corroborated the first source that there was a heavy military engagement between the two forces last Sunday, adding that the incident have restricted movement, business activities and other public services except for some small business owners who have managed to start their usual business activities. The source further said that government security forces were still operating in the city to identify those who allegedly cooperated with the rebel group.

Odaa Tarbii, spokesman for the Oromo Liberation Army, tweeted on the same day that “OLA forces rescued over 120 political prisoners” from Kumsa Moroda a museum turned military camp and prison, and “destroyed several regime military installations in the city”.

The OLA, commonly referred to as “OLF/Shene” by government officials, has been designated as a terrorist organization by Ethiopian parliament. The group has been actively fighting with government forces since 2018 and there has been reports of increased fighting in different zones of the Oromia Region over the past weeks including multiple government airstrikes reportedly killing civilians.

A witness in Bila town of West Wollega told the AP that he saw bodies scattered on the ground following an alleged aerial attack on 02 November by what he described as a “small flying plane” or possible drone. The BBC’s Afaan Oromoo service has also reported about the same attack saying that at least 60 people including 11th grader student have been killed by a drone strike. Both the federal and Oromia regional governments did not issue official statement on the latest fighting.

Earlier, Addis Standard reported that at least 68 people were killed in a drone strike in Ofu Bekke village, Chobi district, in the West Shewa zone of Oromia region on Sunday 23 October.

The federal government signed a cessation of hostilities agreement with Tigrayan forces last week to end the two war that ravaged Tigray, Afar and Amhara regional states. A major opposition party in Oromia, the Oromo federalist Congress (OFC), in commented on the peace agreement and urged the government to address the war in Oromia in the same manner, without which according to the party “durable peace and security cannot be achieved in Ethiopia”.

“…we urge the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to stop its military actions and extend similar peaceful hand to resolve the conflict in Oromia and other parts of the country through political mechanisms. OFC calls on all political forces in Ethiopia, all Ethiopians and the international community at large to exert all necessary pressure and support an initiative for a peaceful end to the ravaging war in Oromia.” AS

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