Protesters who opposed the arrest of leaders in Wolaita zone, South Ethiopia, clashed with the Defense Force. Dozens reportedly killed. Authorities in the region confirmed only four deaths.
August 10, 2020
Dozens of people have reportedly been killed following a clash between protestors and deployed government forces in Sodo and Boditi towns in the Wolaita zone since Sunday. Social media sources put the number to 20 while eyewitnesses who spoke to VOA Amharic say more than eleven people are killed in different parts of the Wolaita zone. At least four others are wounded.
However, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR), Peace and Security Office Head, Alemayehu Baudi, said that the number of people killed is four.
Protestors opposed the arrest of 26 leaders and activists in what they believed are an attempt on the part of the government to stifle people’s demand for ethnic Sidama statehood status.
According to the VOA Amharic report, cities like Sodo, the seat of Wolaita zone administration, are under the control of security forces.
Protestors were trying to block roads which apparently triggered the response from deployed security forces. Activists on social media criticize the government for the killings saying that an excessive force was used.
Lack of uniformity of government action is another point that is drawing criticism. When radicalized ethnic Oromo mob went from house to house killing non-Oromo Ethiopian in several towns in the Oromo region following the assassination of Hachalu Hundessa, and burning thousands of residential and businesses, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration took time to deploy members of the defense force in areas where the mob allegedly “overpowered” regional security forces.
The demand for ethnic-based statehood in the Sidama region brought about killings of hundreds of people in the region sometime in July 2019. Most of those killed were of non-Sidama ethnicity.
This year the zone, which was part of SNNPR region, is recognized as a regional state. Ten other zones in the SNNPR region with a comparable number of population size, or more, demanded ethnic-based statehood status which the government says are in the hands of the House of the Federation.
The Sidama region’s demand gained momentum as radicalized ethnic Oromo radical politicians and activists were behind it due to what many analysts say a vested interest to disintegrate the SNNPR and Oromize it subsequently.
Still, the same political forces seem to be supportive of the demands. Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is another key political actor that is rallying behind the demand for ethnic-based statehood although it was TPLF itself that created the region and controlled it for 27 years.
Reaction from Wolaita National Movement
Wolaita National Movement (WNM) issued a statement on Sunday calling for the government to stop what it called “activity to turn peaceful and legal popular demand to violence.”
The statement also said that the coordinating council of the Advisory board for the formation of Wolaita National Regional State took prisoners as they were having a meeting. According to the statement, it is the Defense Force deployed in the area that arrested the coordinators.
Head of the Wolaita Zone Administration, elders, and Wolaita National Movement organizational affairs head and activists of the region are also arrested, according to a statement from WNM.
“The movement will not be stopped by arresting leaders,” said the statement accusing the Federal government and SNNPR regional government.
The movement called on the government to release arrested leaders.
Government authorities, on the other hand, claim that there was credible information indicating that the leaders were engaged in an activity “that could endanger the existence of the country.” It accused leaders that they are working with Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). It is to be recalled that the government has implicated those organizations in the killing of popular singer Hachalu Hundessa.
Furthermore, the government said that National Information and Security Services, The Command Post and the Defense Forces were involved in the arrest of leaders and zone level authorities.
Wolaita Zone has 38 representatives in the SNNPR council. According to the DW Amharic report, they protested that the regional council is not addressing the demands of the Wolaita zone for statehood status.
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