Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has accused a rebel group of carrying out a “new massacre” of civilians in the western state of Oromia.
In a statement on Twitter on Monday, Abiy said the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) “harmed” civilians as their fighters fled a security force offensive in Oromia.
“Citizens living in the Qellem Wollega zone in Oromia state were massacred,” he said, without giving details.
“We will pursue and eradicate this terrorist group to the end,” he added.
Abiy’s office did not provide death tolls and it has not been possible to verify the information as access to Oromia is restricted. There was also a communications blackout in the region where the killings took place.
Officials have blamed the OLA for a series of killings of Amhara, Ethiopia’s second-largest ethnic group, though the rebels denied responsibility.
The United States-based Amhara Association of America (AAA) told AFP that Monday’s attack targeted Amhara at a village in Hawa Gelan district of Qellem Wollega.
It said phone communications to the remote area had been cut off since noon.
One survivor told Amhara Media Corporation, a state-run regional broadcaster, that “nobody came to our rescue.”
“She [the attackers] have left and bodies are being picked up now, 300 so far [bodies] collected,” said the survivor. “But it’s early days, there are many others whose whereabouts we don’t know.”
The AAA, citing local sources, told the Associated Press news agency it believed 150 to 160 people were killed in the attacks.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), a pro-government independent body, expressed alarm at the reports and called for an “urgent reinforcement” of government security forces to prevent further civilian deaths.
A statement said government security forces are said to have reached the area but residents are continuing to seek shelter elsewhere.
“The ongoing insecurity in the region and what appears to be ethnically targeted killings of residents must end immediately,” EHRC Chief Commissioner Daniel Bekele said in a statement.
Ethiopia’s armed forces have been battling an OLA insurgency in Oromia, the largest and most populous region bordering South Sudan, for years.
In June, several hundred people, mostly Amhara, were killed by gunmen in Tole village in West Wollega, an area bordering Qellem Wollega, according to witnesses.
Local authorities said the OLA was responsible, but the rebels denied any role in the killings, blaming a pro-government militia.
No official number has been released, but Abiy spokeswoman Billene Seyoum told reporters on June 30 that 338 victims had been identified so far.
Michele Bachelet, the United Nations human rights officer, has urged the Ethiopian authorities to conduct “prompt, impartial and thorough” investigations into the Tole attack.
Also in June, the OLA attacked the regional capital of Gambella, the first such attack by the rebels on a major city.
US-based Human Rights Watch said Monday it had documented serious abuses in Oromia, including in the west, where an “abusive” government campaign against the OLA caught civilians in the crossfire.
The Tigray conflict in northern Ethiopia has overshadowed an “ongoing cycle of violence” against civilians by security forces and armed groups in Oromia.
The OLA allied last year with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has been fighting government forces in the north since November 2020.