The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRCO) on Sunday released a statement regarding the situation in Gambella, South West Ethiopia, which said to be home to over 350,000 refugees from South Sudan.
It came days after news sources reported that at least 29 people were killed in the Pino area of the region.
EHRCO said that there have been armed conflicts in the region involving armed groups and the commission has been following the conflicts and security problems in the region since May of this year. It continues to do so by contacting security authorities in the region.
EHRCO traces the origin of the security problem to a conflict between residents in the Itang district of the region. The sources cited residents to report that the fight between individuals rapidly escalated to ethnic-based tension impacting the security situation in the region.
Armed groups have launched attacks on Itang special district, Gambella district, Gog district, and Gamebella city – especially in the locality known as the “nations and nationalities” neighborhood.
EHRCO indicated that many civilians were killed and displaced. Properties were damaged. Some villages are entirely destroyed.
The security situation in the region has made it impossible for EHRCO to investigate the situation from the areas affected by it, the statement added.
The region has been affected by recurring attacks by armed groups from neighboring South Sudan and at times due to inter-ethnic violence in the region.
An armed group from ethnic Nuer and Agnwak are also taking part in the armed violence in the region.
Last week, the regional state introduced a curfew after 29 civilians were killed by armed groups. Movement of people and vehicles in Gambella city is temporarily outlawed between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. except for authorized security forces.
Furthermore, the regional government has imposed restrictions on firearms. No individual is allowed to carry a weapon in public except for security forces.
The new restrictions are to remain in place indefinitely. As part of the effort to arrest the security crisis in the region, members of the Federal police, Defense Forces, and what EHRCO described as “security forces from the region,” are deployed.
There are reports of partial improvement in the security situation in the region and regular activity in Gambella city resumed.
EHRCO says caution needs to be exercised to ensure that the implementation of the curfew is not contributing to further human rights violations.
It also advised that consistent attention and follow-up should be given to end recurring violence that is increasingly making residents vulnerable.
EHRCO’s statement emphasized the need to foster the security task force deployed in the region while providing humanitarian assistance for those displaced because of the attack. It also talked about the need to make arrangements for those who were harmed during the conflict to get medical assistance.
What the statement called “loose relation” between refugee communities and local residents is something that needs a lasting solution.
Daniel Bekele, Director of EHRC, thinks establishing a joint coordinating committee drawn from residents, refugee communities representatives, refugee host communities, Federal and “Gambella Region Security Forces,” organizations working on refugee rights could be desirable to support the work.
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