Ethiopia: News Analysis - Oromia Regional Govt Claim Voluntary Youth Recruitment, Region's Opposition Dispute Claim, Depict Process As Conscription

The Oromia region in Ethiopia.

Addis Abeba — Addis Standard received reports claiming that Oroimia regional government was conscripting youth in different parts of the region. Simultaneously, contradicting reports addressing the nature of the recruitment of Oromo youth into Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) surfaced over last week. The Oromia regional government claimed that the process was voluntary while the opposition painted the process as conscription.

Reports suggested that the process is ongoing since Wednesday, July 21, 2021, while images of Oromo youth being loaded into busses and being sent to temporary training camps before being sent to the battlefront in the border area between Amhara and Tigray regions flooded social media platforms over the weekend. On its part, Oromia regional state through its broadcast network Oromia Broadcasting Network (OBN) issued statements confirming the recruitment of youth in different zones of the region into the ENDF and defended the process arguing that it was voluntary in nature. Corresponding statements confirmed recruitment in Borana, West Guji, Illubabor and West Shewa zones in addition to reports of conscription of youth in the Special zone surrounding Finfinne, Bale, East Bale, West Arsi zones of the region.

However, sources who spoke to Addis Standard dispute the government depiction of the nature of recruitment as voluntary and argue that it is conscription. In Shashemene, a source who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal confirmed to Addis Standard and said, "Young men are being rounded up and being taken to Rift Valley hotel and the crying mothers were denied access to their children." A medical doctor who oversaw the medical check up of some of the recruits also confirmed the occurrence of the matter. The MD who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal added, "I know for a fact that at least one recruit is 17 years old. I later confirmed from his family that he was indeed underage."

Youth in Bale and East Bale zones were not spared from conscription. Sources on the ground confirmed to Addis Standard the forced nature of the recruitment process. A community leader in Bale-Robe town who asked to remain anonymous told Addis Standard, "They are rounding up youth from nearby towns and gathering them in the city. City youth are not spared either." When asked about the numbers he said, "The numbers are huge, why they are doing it and why at this time I don't know." The community leader explained that the mechanisms in which the recruitment process is being carried can only amount to conscription and argued that underage teens might fall victim to the process.

In Burayu, a youth who was first rounded up on Wednesday and released later on Friday told Addis Standard, "We were in a pool house when they (Burayu town police) came and rounded everyone up," he continued, "We were gathered in the Burayu Police detention center in three rooms; our room held upto 40 individuals. They came two days later and released those of us who were at the pool house only while leaving the rest." The youth recalled instances of physical abuse he witnessed and explained that it was used on reluctant youth. He also confirmed that underage children were held in the detention center with him.

Moreover, the Oromo Liberation Front accused the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of waging a war against the Oromo youth. It said in a statement it released on Friday July 23, 2021, "According to tangible information we received from different parts of the country, the PP group is forcing most underaged children below 15 years old for military training and preparing them for war. Most of the children they are conscripting are from poor sectors of our society who are shoe polishers, daily laborers and those looking for manual labor work to earn their daily bread. They forcefully recruit these children by giving them false and misleading information promising them a job. As we speak the PP armed forces are conscripting several children from Ambo prison, Dalattii (Sabbata) prison, Sululta, Burayu and different locations including from streets and individual homes." The opposition party in its statement accused the federal government of using children as soldiers to advance a failed agenda.

Furthermore, the OLF, while condemning what it described as 'child conscription', urged Oromo citizens and citizens of Ethiopia saying, "We urge citizens of Oromia and other Ethiopian peoples to organize themselves, strengthen their unity and defend the children from this evil act of the PP ruling group. Particularly, we ask the political parties' structure, Oromo Youth (Qerroo/Qarree) structure, and the administration of the Oromia Regional National Transitional Government (ORNTG) to work hard to protect these children. We also appeal to the international communities to do their best in their capacities to investigate and prosecute those who recruit and use children for war as this is now recognized as a war under international laws."

These reports come as escalation from both sides (Amhara regional state and forces loyal to Tigray People's Liberation Front) of the conflict resulted in military buildup along the two regions' borders, threatening a possibility of a full blown civil war. They also come in the backdrop of recent calls to arms by the Amhara regional state, where it urged all nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia to come to the side of the Amhara people, arguing that the threat posed by TPLF was an existential threat. Afar regional state,where the conflict spread last week, echoed similar calls, emphasizing the dangers of allowing the TPLF who it called 'terrorists' to carry on with its destructive agenda. AS

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