Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has accused a rebel group of carrying out a “new massacre” of civilians in the western state of Oromia.
In a statement on Twitter on Monday, Abiy said the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) was “causing harm” to civilians as its fighters carried out a security force offensive in Oromia.
“Citizens living in the Qellem Wollega area of Oromia state have been massacred,” he said, without giving details.
“We will pursue this terrorist group to the end and we will eradicate it,” he added.
Abiy’s office did not provide death figures and it was not possible to verify the information as access to Oromia is restricted. The region where the murders took place also suffered a communications outage.
Officials have blamed the OLA for a series of killings against the Amharas, Ethiopia’s second-largest ethnic group, though the rebels have denied responsibility.
The US-based Amhara Association of America (AAA) told the AFP news agency that Monday’s attack targeted Amharas in a village in the Hawa Gelan district of Qellem Wollega.
He said that telephone communication with the remote area has been interrupted since noon.
One survivor told Amhara Media Corporation, a regional state-owned media outlet, that “no one came to rescue us.”
“They [the attackers] are gone and the bodies are now being collected, so far 300 [bodies] have been collected,” the survivor said. “But it is still early, there are many others whose whereabouts we do not know.”
AAA, citing sources on the ground, told The Associated Press that it believes between 150 and 160 people may have been killed in the attacks.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), an independent state-affiliated body, said it was alarmed by the reports and called for “urgent reinforcement” of government security forces to prevent further civilian deaths.
It said in a statement that government security forces were reported to have arrived in the area, but residents continued to seek refuge elsewhere.
“The continuing insecurity in the area and what appears to be the ethnically motivated killing of residents must stop immediately,” EHRC Chief Commissioner Daniel Bekele said in a statement.
The Ethiopian armed forces have been fighting an OLA rebellion for years in Oromia, the larger and more populous region that borders South Sudan.
In June, several hundred people, mostly Amhara, were killed by gunmen in the village of Tole in West Wollega, an area adjacent to Qellem Wollega, according to witnesses.
Local authorities said the OLA was responsible, but the rebels denied any role in the killings and blamed a pro-government militia.
No official figure has been released, but Abiy’s spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, told reporters on June 30 that 338 victims had been identified so far.
Michele Bachelet, the United Nations human rights chief, has called on Ethiopian authorities to carry out “swift, impartial and thorough” investigations into Tole’s attack.
Also in June, the OLA attacked the regional capital of Gambella, the first such incursion into a major city by the rebels.
US-based Human Rights Watch said on Monday it had documented serious abuses in Oromia, including in the west, where an “abusive” government campaign against the OLA had caught civilians in the crossfire.
He said the Tigray conflict in northern Ethiopia was overshadowing a “persistent cycle of violence” against civilians by security forces and armed groups in Oromia.
Last year, the OLA allied itself with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has been fighting government forces in the north since November 2020.