Ethiopia: Amidst Conflicting Accounts Somali Region Sees Increasing Civilian Causalities

Addis Abeba — "It is the same old police, nothing has changed. Trigger happy police continue to terrorize the population in the region." said Ahmed, a resident of Qabridahare city, in Korahe Zone of the Somali Region in eastern Ethiopia. Ahmed, who only wants to be mentioned by his first name, came in the midst of sporadic conflicts in recent weeks that left a trail of several civilians deaths and injuries. "To me it doesn't matter why people gathered or what happened as much as that I don't want to see this happening again," he said.

Ahmed's account corroborate accounts by other activists from the region asserting security crackdown against civilian protestors has resulted in the death of at least two and injury of one protestors On October 17, an account the zonal public relations office didn't want to comment when approached by Addis Standard.

Sporadic protests have been reported following an incident in Dhagaxbuur (Degahbur) city in early August where a youth died in the hands of police officers. Dr. Hussien Kassim, Chief of Somali Regional State peace and security bureau, told Addis Standard at the time that the incident happened on Thursday August 13 leading "to the death of a young man during a police operation against youth violence. Youth groups clashed and the police responded to contain the situation," he said, and confirmed that the young man "died in the hands of the police." An investigation was launched and "the police officers who were involved in this are in custody," he said.

Two weeks after that on September 03, reports surfaced about multiple civilian causalities, this time in Raaso, Afdheer Zone, where, by the accounts of activists, at least seven civilians were killed (other accounts claim the number to be nine) and dozens were injured by the regional special force, Liyu Police, during protests against the regional government.

But this account was contested by Dr. Hussien Kassim who told Addis Standard that the clashes involved a communal conflict between two sub-clans: the Sheekaal (or Sheikal) and a sub clan of Reer Abdille and was a result of two decades' old resettlement-related communal conflict that the regional state was trying to resolve after forming a committee of elders, prominent personalities and academicians among others. The regional government had also sent in members of the Liyu police to monitor a buffer zone in the contested flashpoint area following which a four month stability was observed.

While the regional government continued navigating this complicated and delicate clan conflict and in the absence of independently verifiable account on what exactly took place in Raaso On September 03, Somali regional state, hailed as one of the stable regions in Ethiopia often credited to the leadership of the current regional president Mustafe Muhumed Omar, was once again hit by another violence on October 11, 2020, this time in the town of Qabridahare, Korahay Zone, which left at least eleven civilians injured.

According to eye witnesses who spoke to Addis Standard on condition of anonymity the regional police opened fire at civilians who gathered to protests against police violence against on youth. Four of the eleven were critically injured and were evacuated to Jigjiga city for medical treatment. A resident of the town who was present at scene said, "This tragic incident occurred after people rushed to the area and tried to step in and stop a police officer who was violently beating a young boy named Amin Abdullahi. As a reaction to the crowd gathering, the police officer opened fire at the crowd (mostly women and children) injuring 11 of them," he said, adding, "As far as I know no one had died but at least one victim is said to be in critical condition."

A relative of one of the victims who, like many, spoke to Addis Standard on the condition of anonymity says "I remember people were speaking about how the region enjoys a relative peace, what I experienced and others have experienced ]in recent weeks] is short of what you call peace. I have to leave my business unattended and come here to accompany my loved ones because I don't trust the system and I am not sure I will."

Addis Standard was able to confirm eight names of the victims through sources in Qabridahare, but our repeated attempt to reach the office of the Mayor of Qabridahare and the Korahay Zone public relations office for a comment on the situation in Qabridahare were to no avail, as of yet. AS

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