Cablegate: Brutal Ethnic Violence in Western Ethiopia

DE RUEHDS #1554/01 1610718
R 090718Z JUN 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) SUMMARY: During the period of May 17 to 21, 2008 the
Ethiopian Oromo and Gumaz ethnic groups experienced tensions and
conflict prompted by disputes over land rights, which by all
accounts, included horrific acts of violence. These events will
undoubtedly result in long lasting animosity and problems between
these two ethnic groups which have historically never enjoyed a
cordial relationship. This ethnic conflict occurred in the vicinity
of Nekemte; a city located approximately 150 miles north west of
Addis Ababa. The actual location of this violence was in the
vicinity of the Dedese River, located approximately 25 miles west of
Nekemte. Although the Oromo and Gumaz ethnic groups have a long
history of tension and conflict (primarily land based), this most
recent incident was reported to be especially violent and brutal.

2. (U) During the early morning hours of May 17, 2008 a large
number of armed members of the ethnic Gumaz group launched an attack
against ethnic Oromos in an area located approximately 25 miles west
of Nekemte near the Dedese River. The area around the Dedese River
is known to be very fertile land with high agricultural value.
During the previous communist Dergue regime (1974 to 1991), this
area was organized into collective farms. Upon the downfall of the
Dergue, the ethnic Oromos claimed this land as their own. The ethnic
Gumaz contest the Oromo's claim to this land, and claim the land is
theirs. The disagreement regarding which ethnic group should enjoy
the rights to this land has resulted in conflict between the Oromo
and Gumaz.

3. (U) The May 17 Gumaz attack against the Oromos was especially
brutal, more so then in previous years. There are reports senior
ethnic Gumaz tribal leaders and government officials played a role
in encouraging and organizing this attack. The Gumaz attackers were
reported to be armed with machetes, spears, bows and arrows, small
arms and possibly a rocket propelled grenade. Specific acts of
violence perpetrated by the Gumaz assailants against the Oromos are
reported to have included amputations of limbs, flaying (skinning
people alive), disembowelment of pregnant women and killing of
fetuses, emasculations of males and in some cases forcing female
family members to consume the severed appendage and killing of small
children and infants.

4. (U) Throughout the initial two day period (May 17 to 19), Gumaz
assailants were reported not to limit their attacks to Oromos, but
also attacked members of other ethnic groups as well as civil
servants and teachers. The Gumaz were also reported to have fiercely
resisted the responding police forces. It is reported that any
non-Gumaz individual who was in the area was subject to attack.

5. (U) After the initial two days, the Ethiopian Federal and local
police restored some degree of order. On May 19 the ethnic Oromo's
organized and initiated a two day counter offensive carrying out
acts of revenge against the Gumaz. There were reports of Oromo
assailants killing Gumaz, burning their dwellings and in some cases
burning Gumaz individuals alive locked in their dwellings. By May
21 the Police had restored order and the general security situation
was under control.

6. (U) The four days of violence are reported to have resulted in
approximately 130 persons killed, an unknown number injured, 115
dwellings burned and 8,000 to 10,000 internally displaced persons.
Some of these displaced persons are reported to be Gumaz who have
fled the area fearing further retaliatory attacks. Many ethnic
Ormos have also fled the area fearing further violence. People from
both ethnic groups suffered loss of houses, livestock, food stocks,
crops, other possessions and are homeless and destitute.

7. (U) The conflict is reported to have occurred in four districts
of Oromo region, to include Sasiga, Diga, Gumto Gida and Limu.
Nekemte was not reported to have experienced any direct consequences
of this violence, however did experience some residual acts of
violence. Nekemte's primary population is Oromo. There were
reports of Nekemte Oromos exacting revenge on any ethnic Gumaz (or
similar appearing individuals) they encountered. In some cases
Nekemte Oromos organized themselves to stop vehicles seeking to
enter town and search for Gumaz individuals. This
residual/retaliatory violence is reported to have resulted in the
deaths of 2 to 3 individuals and injuries to unknown number of

8. (U) The local authorities are reported to have arrested and
detained 100 instigators of the violence and their accomplices.
Most of those arrested are reported to be Gumaz. Among those
arrested, are several Gumaz government officials, to include;

-The vice president of the Benishangul Gumaz region;

-The police commissioner for one small district in the Benishangul
Gumaz region

ADDIS ABAB 00001554 002 OF 002

Among those currently being sought by the police for involvement in
the violence is an ethnic Gumaz who serves as the head of the
Agriculture and Rural Development Bureau for Benishagul Gumaz
Region. This individual is accused of being a key organizer who
reportedly actively encouraged, motivated and possibly facilitated
the Gumaz attack on the Oromos.

9. (U) The situation in the effected region is currently reported
to be normal and under control. Heavy police and military presence
has restored law and order. A peace and reconciliation conference
organized by Oromo and Gumaz leaders and the regional head of state
is on-going.

10. (U) COMMENT: Ethnic tensions are rife throughout Ethiopia.
Individual land possession/rights are also a serious matter
throughout Ethiopia and the source of much of the ethnic tensions.
This latest incident is especially troublesome given the wanton
brutality of the acts committed. It is difficult to comprehend how
the victims will entirely forgive the perpetrators who committed
violent acts against them. Even then, unless the issue regarding
the land is fully resolved these two ethnic groups will most likely
attack each other in the future. Post will continue to monitor this
situation and report developments accordingly. Direct any questions
regarding this matter to RSO Addis Ababa Michael Bishop at END SUMMARY.


© Scoop Media

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