Global Policy Forum

Ethiopian PM: Report of Army Killings 'Fiction'

April 29, 2004

Ethiopia's prime minister Thursday dismissed a report that said the army had helped kill more than 1,000 people in ethnic murders in the west of the country, calling it a "fiction" that had duped outsiders. The Swiss-based World Organization Against Torture, or OMCT, said an estimated 1,137 people had been killed between December 13, 2003 and March 31 in the Gambella region.

The OMCT said Ethiopian security forces had backed highlander militias in a campaign of systematic killings and mass rapes of the 100,000-strong Anuak community, driving thousands of refugees into neighboring Sudan. "People are fabricating things and others are swallowing it without chewing," Meles Zenawi told Reuters in an interview. "I don't know how they get these figures. It's a fiction."

The OMCT says reports showed between December 13 and 15, uniformed Ethiopian troops worked alongside highlanders to kill 424 Anuaks in towns including Gambella, the region's capital. "The massive targeting of a specific ethnic group, with the clear intent of destroying a part or the entirety of the group, bears all the hallmarks of acts of genocide and crimes against humanity," the OMCT said in its statement Tuesday.

Meles put the toll from the various clashes in the region at 200 at most and said the only people who had been killed by the military in the area were armed Anuak insurgents who had staged cross-border raids from Sudan. "I don't know this organization," Meles said, referring to the OMCT. "I know that it is lying." "Without the intervention of the army, the killings would have continued indefinitely," Meles said.

The government says the trigger for the killings was an ambush of a vehicle carrying U.N. and Ethiopian government officials earlier in December that was blamed on Anuaks. The OMCT says troops used the incident to incite violence by highlanders, who it said reportedly mutilated bodies while chanting: "Today is the day of killing Anuaks."

"Schools have reportedly been emptied of schoolgirls, who have then been gang raped," OMCT said in one of its statements. "In one case in Pinyudo, assailants allegedly shouted 'We are going to kill your men and the next generation of Anuaks will be produced by us'."

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