Ethiopian security forces have killed more than 400 since November, and arrested tens of thousands more, in hopes of quashing protests in the Oromia region, according to a report by Human Rights Watch June 17. The report calls the killings "the latest in a series of abuses against those who express real or perceived dissent in Oromia." It also discusses Ethiopian government efforts to restrict media freedom and access to information in Oromia. Most notably, the government has restricted access to social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and any "diaspora-run television stations." HRW called for the government to drop charges and release all those detained in protests, as well as a "credible, independent and transparent investigation into the use of excessive force by its security forces."
The governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea are blaming each other in the weekend's deadly border skirmish that threatens a return to open war between the regional rivals. Ethiopia's Information Minister Getachew Reda described the clashes as "an Eritrean initiative." In a short statement, the Eritrean regime said Ethiopia had "unleashed an attack against Eritrea on the Tsorona Central Front. The purpose and ramifications of this attack are not clear." (BBC News) The independent exile-based Gedab News, which covers Eritrea, says it has received "credible information" that the battle was triggered when a group of Eritrean conscripted soldiers crossed the border to Ethiopia in an attempt to desert, and were shot at by Eritrean troops. Members of an armed Eritrean opposition group hosted by Ethiopia returned fire before Ethiopian soldiers then entered the fray. (Awate.com)
A force of Ethiopian troops crossed into South Sudan on April 20 to launch a joint offensive with the Juba government against ethnic Murle militia fighters who staged a bloody raid into Ethiopia's Gambela region a week earlier. The Murle militiamen attacked several villages and massacred over 200 civilians of the Nuer ethnicity in the raid, and abducted some 100 children as well as stealing some 2,000 cattle. News reports initially described the incursion as a cattle raid, but the militiamen were said to be armed with AK-47s and wearing uniforms. Hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese, mainly Nuer, have fled to Gambela to escape armed conflict. The raid has heightened fears of the South Sudan war spilling into Ethiopia. (Ethiopian Herald via AllAfrica, DW, April 22; Radio Tamazuj, Sudan, April 20)
Somali news site Mareeg reports March 23 that Ethiopia has for the first time actually halted the flow of water into Somalia by closing the gates on irrigation dams along the Shabelle River. The river, which flows from the Ethiopian highlands, now no longer reaches Somali territory, where banana plantations (one of the country's few sources of foreign exchange) have long depended on it. A photo with the report shows vehicles driving through the completely dry river bed. It also claims that impoundments on Ethiopia's Genale River have significantly reduced water levels in Somalia's Jubba River, into which it flows. Mareeg accuses Ethiopia of "taking advantage of its hydro-hegemony" at the expense of Somalia.
A US air raid, carried with both warplanes and drones, killed more than 150 al-Shabaab militants in Somalia March 5, with the Pentagon citing an "imminent threat" to US and African Union forces. Spokesman Cpt. Jeff Davis said a "large-scale" attack was being prepared at the camp. The target, identified as "Raso Camp," was in Bulobarde province, about 200 kilometers north of the capital, Mogadishu. Al-Shabab was pushed out of Mogadishu by African Union peacekeeping forces in 2011 but has continued to launch frequent attacks in its bid to overthrow the Western-backed government—including the twin bombing at a busy restaurant in the Somali city of Baidoa that killed 30 on Feb. 28.
Five Ethiopian bloggers on Oct. 16 were acquitted of terrorism charges relating to publications on their Zone9 website. The publications, critical of the government, landed nine bloggers in court, with one charged in absentia, in April 2014, for violation of Ethiopia's broad anti-terrorism law. In July five bloggers were unexpectedly released after being cleared by the court. In the new decision, the court announced that documents provided by prosecutors were insufficient to prove terrorism, leading to the release of four bloggers. Although cleared of terrorism charges, one blogger remains detained on charges of inciting violence. The releases come as a surprise for a nation ranked as one of the world's least free.
UK-based advocacy group Survival International says it has received reports that violent conflict between Ethiopian soldiers and Hamar pastoralists left dozens dead last month. The Hamar are one of several tribal peoples of the Lower Omo Valley who are subject to the government's policy of "villagization." They are being forcibly relocated to government-created villages along new roads through the region, while their ancestral grazing lands are sold off to investors for commercial plantations. These land-grabs have already led to starvation in parts of the Lower Omo. Tensions have been rising as a result of these evictions; at the end of May, Hamar were reportedly attacked by soldiers with rifles and mortars. Survival says a "news blackout" imposed by the government makes it impossible to know the exact number of casualties, but one observer referred to what took place as a "massacre." The incident follows a pattern of abuses in the Lower Omo, including beatings, rape and arbitrary arrest. One displaced Hamar said, "The government told us that if we don't give in to them we will be slaughtered in public like goats." (Survival International, June 5)
Over the past two months, the ISIS international franchise has made foreboding gains from West Africa to the Indian subcontinent. In Nigeria, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS in March, according to the anti-terrorist monitoring group SITE. The pledge, attributed to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, was made in an audio posted on Twitter (and since removed). "We announce our allegiance to the Caliph... and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity," SITE quoted the statement. (Al Jazeera, March 8)