Ethiopian military forces have killed 42 armed men accused of carrying out an appalling massacre during a raid on a village in the western Benishangul-Gumuz region.
“The Ethiopia Defense Force has destroyed 42 anti-peace forces who attacked civilians yesterday” in the Metekel zone of Benishangul-Gumuz, the regional government said in a statement on Thursday.
The offensive came just a day after unidentified armed men torched homes and killed more than 100 people, according to the state-run Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, in the village of Bekoji in Bulen County of the troubled region.
The state-affiliated Fana TV, citing unnamed regional officials, also confirmed the news, saying government troops had managed to seize bows and arrows and other weapons from the armed men.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said earlier in the day that he was sending more troops to Benishangul-Gumuz to contain ethnic tensions there.
“The massacre of civilians in Benishangul-Gumuz region is very tragic,” Abiy said on Twitter. “The government, to solve the root causes of the problem, has deployed a necessary force.”
The brutal dawn attack on the village had forced thousands of people to flee the village and sleep in the forest or in schools, said Ethiopian Red Cross volunteer Mesfin Mesele.
“There are mothers who lost their husbands and children who lost their parents,” he further said, adding, “We have nothing to feed them. They walked 25 kilometers.”
Separately, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), a government-affiliated but independent body, said attackers had set fields and homes ablaze, burning people alive as they were asleep.
The African nation has been grappling with outbreaks of deadly hostilities since Abiy was appointed in 2018 and expedited political reforms that loosened the central government’s iron grip on regional rivalries.
Abiy, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2019, has accused rebel forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the region’s ruling party, of launching deadly attacks on a pair of federal military camps in the region. He has also accused the party of defying his government and seeking to undermine it.
The Ethiopian military has so far carried out a number of massive attacks against the purported positions of rebel forces loyal to the TPLF in the Tigray region. The violence, however, has forced a large number of people to flee the region and cross the border into neighboring Sudan, which itself struggles with severe economic problems.
General elections scheduled to be held next year have further inflamed rivalries over land, power, and resources in the impoverished African country.