In the latest strings of conflict in Southern Ethiopia, several reported dead and thousands displaced in Meskan, Gurage zone
by Bernabas Shiferaw
A conflict that broke out in Meskan woreda (Amharic word that translates to district) of the Gurage zone last week has caused the death of several people, the displacement of thousands of inhabitants, and the destruction of material property (that has not yet been quantified).
According to residents of the area, the conflict is the latest instance of a 20 year long dispute between the neighboring woredas of Meskan and Mareqo over the ownership of nine kebeles.
These two woredas used to be part of one woreda known as “Mesqan and Mareqo woreda” with a population mainly composed of two tribes, the Gurage and the Mareqo. About twenty years ago, the woreda was divided into two smaller woredas forming today’s, Mesqan and Mareqo woredas.
It was then that a dispute arose between the two woredas over the nine kebeles. The populations in the nine kebeles are composed of both Gurages (Mesqan) and Mareqos. Due to the mixed nature of their populations, they were claimed by the Mareqo, although they had been included in Mesqan woreda.
Ever since, the dispute over land ownership turned into conflicts which, like the present one, took human lives and caused the destruction of property.
The present conflict, according to inhabitants who spoke to Deutsche Welle (DW), began last week in the Bati-Leja kebele when a fight broke out between some members of the Mareqo tribe and their Gurage neighbors over land dispute.
In the days that followed, the fight grew into a bigger conflict between members of the two tribes and extended to three neighboring kebeles, namely bati-Futo, Ocha-Geneme, and Semien-Dida. The inhabitants reported the death of at least ten people from both sides, although Mr. Feleke Abate, the head of the communication bureau of the Gurage zone, said that he is aware of only six deaths. Many houses have been burnt, some 40 or 50 according to one inhabitant, and an unspecified amount of material property has been destroyed.
Thousands of inhabitants from the four kebeles have left the area seeking refuge in Qoshe, the capital of the Mareqo woreda, and Butajira, the zone capital. But Mr. Feleke has denied knowledge of the existence of displaced inhabitants.
Presently, the military, the federal police, and the regional special police force have entered the area and the conflict has cooled down, although it has not completely stopped. According to the inhabitants, some people are still being attacked in some places when they are found by themselves.
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