ADDIS ABABA – At least 5 people were killed and another fifteen injured in clashes between protesters and security forces in Wolita zone of Ethiopia’s southern region on Monday, the region’s top security official said.
The protests were triggered by the detention of 10 senior zonal officials who sought to unilaterally declare the formation of a new regional state within the federation.
Authorities, however, have accused the officials of attempting to disrupt on-going efforts to respond to the zone’s demand for statehood in line with the direction set by the government
The detainees are also accused of conspiring with opposition groups in an attempt to destabilize the zone.
In the protest that followed the arrest, “five people have died and fifteen others sustained injuries”, Alemayehu Bawdi, head of the regional state’s peace and security bureau, told national broadcaster on Tuesday.
According to the Bureau head, the protesters were trying, not only blocking federal and regional roads, but also attempted to take away weapons from the security forces and to inflict damage on public and private properties.
Call for investigation
Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) security officials of using “excessive force in confronting protesters” and increased the death toll to “at least six people”.
Protesters took to the streets in several towns across the zone. The incidents involving loss of life took place in Boditi, where five people died, according to EHRC. One additional person was killed in Sodo, the zonal capital, it added.
“Security forces should exercise maximum restraint from using lethal force in dealing with peaceful protest. Such actions only exacerbate an already tense situation,” said Aaron Maasho, spokesperson of the commission.
“The killing of at least six protesters requires a prompt investigation into the circumstances of the case and use of lethal force,” he added.
Following the protest, a total of 178 people were detained, EHRC. They remain detained in the premises of Wolaita Sodo Agricultural, Technical and Vocational Education College.
“Authorities should also ensure that the rights of all detainees are fully respected, including to appear before a court promptly,” Aaron said. “The Federal and Regional government should demonstrate leadership to achieve a timely and peaceful resolution of issues related to pending requests for separate regional statehood within the SNNPR.”
Like many ethnic groups, the Wolaita – currently part of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Regional state – want their own state, which would give them greater powers over security and taxation.
Ethiopia currently has 10 states and around 80 ethnic groups. Its federal system allows any ethnic group to demand a referendum on establishing their own autonomous region – but the previous administration never permitted such votes.
Image Caption: Wolaita zone’s capital Sodo [Photo File/FBC]