At Least 60 Dead In Ethnic Clashes In Ethiopia's Oromia Region

At least 61 people have been killed in clashes between different ethnic groups in Ethiopia's Oromia region, officials said, the latest bout of violence to highlight increasing instability in a province racked by bloody protests in 2015 and 2016.

From Thursday (November 29) ethnic Oromos were killed by ethnic Somali attackers in the region's Hawi Gudina and Daro Lebu districts, regional spokesman Addisu Arega Kitessa said.

The violence triggered revenge attacks by ethnic Oromos in another district, resulting in the killing of 32 Somalis who were being sheltered in the area following a previous round of violence.

"The region is working to bring the perpetrators to justice," the spokesman said in a statement.

The cause of the latest violence was not known, but it followed protests in Oromia's Celenko town where the region's officials said 16 ethnic Oromos were shot dead on Tuesday by soldiers trying to disperse the crowd.

"We do not know who ordered the deployment of the military. This illegal act should be punished," said Lema Megersa, the region's president.

Social media users posted videos and pictures of what they said were protests held in the Oromia's town of Nekemte over the recent deaths.

The clashes are likely to fuel fears about security in Ethiopia, the region's biggest economy and a staunch Western ally.

Lema's comments also illustrate growing friction within Ethiopia's ruling EPRDF (Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front ), a coalition of four parties, since unrest roiled the Oromia region in 2015 and 2016, when hundreds of people were killed.

Oromo protesters claim the government is dominated by the Tigray minority, who make up 6.2 percent of the total population.

Demonstrations started in Oromia in late 2015, where people initially protested over government plans to expand the territory of the capital Addis Ababa, with farmers raising concerns that increasing the size of the city would lead to forced evictions and loss of farming land.

The government later scrapped the plans, but protests continued. Oromo people argued for a greater inclusion in the political process and the release of political prisoners.

The protests, labelled as the biggest anti-government unrest the country has witnessed in recent history, later spread to Amhara and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region (SNNPR) region.

During some rallies, demonstrators attacked government-owned buildings.

The unrest continued throughout 2016.

Oromia protests
People protest against Ethiopian government during Irreecha, the annual Oromo festival to celebrates the end of the rainy season, in Bishoftu, on October 1, 2017. The latest round of violence occurred months after Oromia was rocked by deadly protests in which hundreds were killed. ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER/AFP/Getty Images)

Last October, the government implemented a six-month-long state of emergency, which was further extended by four months in March, to tackle the unrest.

Critics of the state of emergency claimed the government was trying to quell protests by, among other things, restricting freedoms and banning certain media outlets, including the Oromia Media Network. The government denied the allegations.

Rights groups have criticized Ethiopia for the way it handled protests, accusing the military and the police of using excessive force to quell demonstrations.

The response to the unrest resulted in the death of at least 669 people, a figure the government confirmed in a report released in April.

While the country's Human Rights Commission recommended prosecution of some police officers, it maintained that the overall response by security forces was adequate.

Earlier in December, a report by Canada-based research group Citizen Lab alleged that Ethiopian dissidents living abroad, including in the U.K were targeted by a spyware campaign. Those targeted included dissidents from the Oromo community.