10 Churches burned, 30 killed including 6 priests in Somali Region
Hundreds of Ethiopians demonstrated last week near the government media office in the capital Addis Ababa, demanding that the Federal government acts to protect civilians as the situation in Jijiga and other parts of the Somali region in eastern Ethiopia worsens: “Ethiopians have the right to live in the region and should not be attacked on the basis of their ethnicity or religion.” Protesters claimed that widespread human rights violations in the Ethio-Somali region are not given adequate media coverage. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has also called on the government to protect human rights in the region, where the commission claims grave human rights violation occurred.
The Somali region has been unstable for some time. Prime Minister Abdi Ahmed, planned to visit that part of the country after taking office at the beginning of April. Official sources of the Tewahedo Orthodox Church say that over 20,000 displaced Ethiopians are currently being supported and assisted by the Orthodox parishes of Jijiga.
The latest violence, which claimed at least 30 lives, started about two weeks ago when armed ethnic Somali men of the Liyu militia under the orders of Abdi Riley (President of the Somali Region) tried to interrupt a meeting between members of the regional parliament and representatives of the city of Dire Dawa, with the intent of denouncing the violation of human rights in the region. Violent clashes followed and Federal government forces were deployed to the Ethio-Somali region following the killings of civilians.
The attacks against targets linked to minority ethnic groups were instigated by members of the Liyu militia. The killings seem to have an ethnic cleansing motive as ethnic Amhara and ethnic Oromo were selectively targeted. The region’s special force, instead of carrying out its duty to protect law and order in the region, was reportedly assisting organised youth mobs in the region to attack civilians, loot shops and burn Christian churches. Regional governor Abdi Valley subsequently resigned and is reported to have been arrested and placed in custody by the authorities of Addis Ababa. He is implicated in human rights violations and a seemingly ethnic cleansing situation in the region. Unconfirmed reports say commander of Somali Region Liyu police (special paratroopers) is also in custody.
Police claim they have not yet established the cause for the violence. However, Christian churches and clergy appear to have been singled out as targets, which suggests the motive for the attack was not just ethnic-based but also based on religion. Ethiopian Orthodox Church diocese head of Jijiga region, Like Kahnat Eyob Wondimu, said that 7 Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Churches were set on fire and 7 priests killed. Among the burned churches is the recently inaugurated Holy Covenant Kidane Mihret Menbere Tsebaot church, built at a cost of 7 million birrs. Three people were killed in the church and their bodies were burned. The region’s Evangelical Church Unity Head, Pastor Gashaw Gebreyohannes, also said 10 churches were looted and burned.
Patriarch Mathias I and the Holy Synod of the Tewahedo Orthodox Church of Ethiopia have announced 16 days of fasting and prayer that precede and follow the liturgical solemnity of the Assumption of St Mary Mother of God – celebrated on 15 August – for peace and reconciliation in Jijiga and in the Somali region.