The incident is an ethnically motivated attack, according to the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC). This is the second attack on civilians in the Oromiya region in less than a month.
The EHRC reports that the population of the villages of Mender 20 and Mender 21 in Hawa Gelan in the Kellem Wollega Oromiya zone is “mostly of Amhara ethnic origin” and that residents are hiding elsewhere despite security forces having reached the area.
“Chene’s group [another name for the OLA]fleeing from the security forces, threatening civilians in the western part [Wollega]. In the Oromiya area, civilians in [Kellem Wollega] were killed. We mourn the loss of our citizens,” Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed tweeted on Monday.
“We will pursue this terrorist group to the end and eliminate it with the help of our people,” he added.
The OLA denied the allegations and blamed government militias for the apparent massacre.
“Two divisions of the ENDF (Ethiopian National Defense Forces), along with allied troops, are occupying the cities [Kellem Wollega]including Machaara, where regime militias massacred civilians as security forces did nothing. The regime thinks it can just point the finger and get away with it,” OLA spokesman Odaa Tarbiyi tweeted on Monday in response to Abiy’s statement.
The OLA, which joined Tigrayan forces against the federal government last year, has been designated a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian government in 2021. The group has often been accused of attacks on civilians and attacks on ethnic Amhars.
The attacks take place against the backdrop of growing inter-ethnic tensions in the country in recent years.
“There is an urgent need to end the ongoing instability in the area and the killing of residents along ethnic lines,” said EHRC Chief Commissioner Dr. Daniel Bekele, who echoed the EHRC’s call for an urgent increase in government security forces to prevent further civilian casualties in the region.