More than 100 people have been killed in Ethiopia’s western region of Benishangul-Gumuz in the latest massacre along ethnic lines in the country.
Witnesses and officials said at least 102 people were killed in the attack early Wednesday in the Metekel zone.
The attack came a day after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited the region and spoke about the need to bring those responsible for the recent attacks to justice.
The attacks are separate from the deadly conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, where Ethiopian forces and allied regional forces began fighting Tigray’s regional forces in early November.
Federal troops deployed in other regions of Africa’s second most populous nation were deployed to fight this conflict and raised fears of a security vacuum.
Even before the Tigray War broke out last month, Abiy’s government had struggled with growing insecurity in many parts of the country. Violence between groups fighting over land and other resources has forced many hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes after Abiy joined in 2018, according to UN estimates.
Ethnic tensions are a major challenge as Abiy seeks to promote national unity in a country with more than 80 ethnic groups.
Belay Wajera, a farmer in the western town of Bulen, told Reuters he counted 82 bodies in a field near his home after the dawn attack on Wednesday. He and his family woke up to the sound of gunshots and ran out of their homes when men shouted “catch them,” he said. His wife and five of his children were shot dead; he was shot in the buttocks while four other children escaped and are now missing.
Another resident of the city, Hassen Yimama, said gunmen stormed the area around 6 a.m. (0300 GMT). He told Reuters he counted 20 bodies at another location. He grabbed his own weapon, but attackers shot him in the stomach.
A local doctor said he and colleagues had treated 38 wounded, most of whom suffered gunshot wounds. Patients had told him about relatives being killed with knives and armed men firing houses and shooting at people trying to flee, he said.
“We were not prepared for this and we have run out of medicine,” a nurse at the same facility told Reuters, adding that a five-year-old child was dead when it was transferred to the clinic.
The attack came the day after the prime minister and military chief of staff, Birhanu Jula, and other senior federal officials visited the region to call for calm after a series of deadly incidents between rival ethnic groups in recent months. The most recent previous attack in the area was on November 14, when gunmen targeted a bus, killing 34 people.
“The enemy’s desire to divide Ethiopia along ethnic and religious lines still exists. This wish remains unfulfilled, ”Abiy tweeted on Tuesday along with photographs of his meetings that day in the town of Metekel. He said residents expressed a desire for peace and that the mood “outweighs any divisive agenda”.
The Prime Minister’s spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday’s attack.