The death toll in clashes this month between Ethiopia’s two largest ethnic groups, the Oromo and Amhara, in the northern Amhara region may be as high as 200, a senior official said on Sunday, up from previous reports of at least 50.
Residents and officials in Oromia Special Zone, an area in Amhara with a majority Oromo population, and the town of Ataye said there were deadly clashes in the area on April 16.
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“According to information we got from people who are displaced, we estimate that up to 200 people might have died from both zones, but we still need to verify the number,” Endale Haile, Ethiopia’s chief ombudsman, told Reuters news agency.
National elections are due in June and several regions in Ethiopia have been hit by political and ethnic violence.
Political reforms after nearly three decades of tightly-controlled government have emboldened regional powerbrokers, who are challenging Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s party in a bid to secure more resources and power for their own groups.
Endale said that in the region’s North Shoa Zone, close to 250,000 people had been displaced by the fighting, while between 20 percent and 25 percent of houses in Ataye had been burned.
In Oromia Special Zone, another 78,000 people had been displaced in the recent fighting, he said.
Endale said a small town in the same zone had been completely burned in March, but gave no more details on whether there were casualties from that incident.
Following the violence in Ataye town, Addis Ababa declared a state of emergency in the southern part of Amhara state to stem the violence.
On Thursday, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said an armed group took control of a county in the western part of the country.
The state-appointed body said it had received reports that Sedal Woreda, in the Kamashi zone of the Benishangul-Gumuz region, was “under near-full control of an armed group as of April 19”.
In recent months, Benishangul-Gumuz has been hit by a surge of ethnic violence including an attack in December that killed more than 200 civilians.
It is one of the several flashpoints across the country of more than 100 million people where ethnic rivalries over land, power and resources have ignited before the delayed national elections.
Earlier this month, more than 100 people were killed in border clashes between the Afar and Somali regions. The two regions blamed special forces from each other’s sides for the deaths.
In March, assailants killed at least 30 civilians in an attack on a village in the Oromia region.