The incident appears to be an ethnically targeted attack, according to a statement from the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC). This is the second attack on civilians in the Oromia region in less than a month.
The EHRC says that the population of Mender 20 and Mender 21 villages in Hawa Gelan in Oromia’s Kellem-Wollega zone is “mainly of Amhara ethnic origin” and that the residents are hiding elsewhere, although security forces have reached the area.
“The Shene Group [another name for the OLA]fleeing security forces, threatening civilians in western part of [Wollega]. In the Oromia region, civilians are in [Kellem Wollega] were massacred. We mourn for our citizens,” Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed tweeted on Monday.
“We will pursue this terrorist group to the end and eliminate it with our people,” he added.
OLA denied the allegations, blaming government militias for the apparent massacre.
“Two divisions of the ENDF (Ethiopian National Defense Force) together with allied forces occupy the cities of [Kellem Wollega], including Machaara, where civilians were killed en masse by the regime’s militias because the security forces did nothing. The regime thinks it can only point the finger and evade accountability,” OLA spokesman Odaa Tarbii tweeted Monday in response to Abiy’s statement.
The OLA, which allied itself with the Tigrayan forces against the federal government last year, was classified as a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian government in 2021. The group has frequently been accused of attacking civilians and targeting ethnic Amharas.
The attacks came amid rising ethnic tensions across the country in recent years.
“The ongoing insecurity in the region and what appears to be ethnically targeted killings of residents must end immediately,” said EHRC Chief Commissioner Dr. Daniel Bekele, who reiterated the EHRC’s call for an urgent reinforcement of state security forces to prevent further civilian deaths in the region.
An earlier version of this story referred to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as Ethiopia’s president. This has been corrected.