Ethiopia: Families of Kidnapped University Students Distressed By Overwhelming Ransom Demands

Addis Abeba — The family of one of about 100 university students who were kidnapped last week near Garba Guracha town in Oromia's North Shoa zone, while traveling from Amhara region to Addis Abeba, said they received a ransom demand of half a million birr.

The sister of a third year female student at Debark University who was kidnapped on Wednesday, 03 July 2024, told Addis Standard on conditions of anonymity that the family have been distressed by the amount of money they are asked to pay, and lack of action by the government.

"We've been receiving phone calls from government officials, but until now, we didn't see any action. Our only and best option appears to be raising funds and pay the money," she said.

Family of another kidnapped student who spoke to the BBC said they were asked to pay 700,000 birr in ransom. "We don't have 7000 birr, let alone 700,000" a family member quoted as saying.

Some students reportedly escaped on the day, while others were later released, "identified by their places of birth" according to the BBC. The whereabouts of the students still in captivity are unknown. Parents of the abducted students described the kidnappers as "Shane," a term used by government officials in reference to the armed group Oromo Liberation Army (OLA).

Asmamaw Zegeye, the president of Debark University, confirmed the incident to the media but abstained from providing further details.

Addis Standard's efforts to get comment from the head of North Shoa zone Peace and Security Bureau as well as officials at the Ministry of Education were unsuccessful.

On Monday, The US Embassy in Addis Abeba condemned the recent surge in kidnappings for ransom reported in the Oromia and Amhara regions. "Abductions of civilians and students for financial gain must stop," the embassy said in a statement.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), in its 3rd Annual Human Rights Situation Report released on Friday, highlighted an increase in kidnappings for ransom affecting both the Oromia and Amhara regions.

In an article published in October 2023, Addis Standard reported on the increasing incidents of kidnappings for ransom in Oromia region, with multiple victims and officials confirming the trend, which occurs amid ongoing conflict between government forces and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA).

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