At least 10 people have been killed in Gonder northern Ethiopia in clashes as locals with security forces. The government blames Eritrea for the unrest but residents cite disputes over land and ethnicity.
According to several reports, the unrest in Gonder began earlier this week when armed police entered the city to arrest members of the “Wolkayit committee” who had been protesting against the government’s decision to merge the Wolkayit community and its land into the neighboring Tigray Regional State. The Ethiopian government spokesperson Getachew Reda on Friday accused the members of kidnapping, murder and being in possesion of arms with an intent of staging terrorist attacks. He also rejected any notion that the clashes was being spearheaded by the Amhara community.
“What happened is that there were individuals suspected of engaging in crime. So to arrest those individuals the Federal Police moved into this area,” Negusu Tilahun, Head of Communication Affairs with the Amhara Regional Government told DW.
“As result there was a clash between residents and the police. There was also an exchange of gunfire which resulted in the deaths of federal police officers and civilians as well. Besides that, there were also damages to property. The government and the public are now working together to bring the town back to its normal situation,” Tilahun said.
Ethiopian government officials have blamed opposition groups based in Eritrea for the unrest in Gonder. However, residents say ethnic tensions are the real reason behind the skirmishes.
Over the last two decades, the Welkait community has been fighting to become part of Amhara saying it identifies more with the Amharas than Tigrayans.
One local resident who spoke to DW on condition of anonymity said the government should stop labeling civilians as terrorists. “That is a very cheap political propaganda. Every freedom fighter is linked to Eritrea or terrorism,” the resident said.
He accused the government media of ommitting to mention that those who were detained were committee members of the Welkait community. “The more the government labels them as terrorists or bandits, rather than responding to the real question, the more things will get worse,” he added.
The Welkait region was under Gonder province until it was handed over to Tigray State in 1991 by the current EPRDF government. The Amharas and Tigrayans had previously lived peacefully side by side but analysts blame the ethnic-federalism system which introduced ethnic ownership of lands for triggering the current dispute.
The US has issued a temporary travel advisory on Gonder and warned its citizens and those travelling to the city to be cautious. US citizens have also been advised to avoid large crowds and the ongoing protests.
The clashes also forced Israel to evacuate a group of 23 young Israeli volunteers from Gonder. The city has about 6,000 Ethiopian Jews who are waiting to be flown to Israel. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said the Ethiopian Jews were not in any immediate danger.