Gunmen have killed dozens of people in a “gruesome” attack on a bus carrying civilians in western Ethiopia, according to the country’s human rights body.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said in a statement on Sunday that “the estimated number of casualties, currently at 34, is likely to rise” from the attack which occurred on Saturday night in the Debate administrative area of the Benishangul-Gumuz region.
It said there were reports of “similar” attacks, and of people fleeing the violence in other parts of the region, as well as “of persons who have fled to seek shelter”.
There was no immediate information about the perpetrators. The attack came amid an escalating conflict between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray region in the country’s north that has reportedly killed hundreds of people and sent more than 20,000 people fleeing over the border in Sudan.
There is no known link between the violence in Benishangul-Gumuz and military operations in Tigray.
The attack on the passenger bus, which was heading from Wonbera to Chagni, took place in a part of the country that has recently seen a spate of deadly assaults on civilians.
EHRC head Daniel Bekele urged regional and federal authorities to work together on a strategy for Benishangul-Gumuz due to the “unrelenting pace” of attacks in the region.
“The latest attack is a grim addition to the human cost which we bear collectively,” he said.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has provided scant information on recent violence in Benishangul-Gumuz, particularly in Metekel zone, where Debate is located.
Twelve people were killed in an attack in the zone in October, while 15 died in a similar attack in late September.
Addressing politicians in October, Abiy said fighters responsible for the killings were receiving training and shelter in Sudan and that Khartoum’s assistance was needed to stabilise the area.
Opposition politicians have described the violence in Benishangul-Gumuz as ethnically motivated.
Specifically they say there is a targeted campaign by ethnic Gumuz militias against ethnic Amhara and Agew living in Metekel.
“The unrelenting pace of attacks on civilians in Benishangul-Gumuz calls for higher vigilance and a more coordinated action between regional and federal security forces,” Bekele said.
“We urge the federal and regional security and judicial authorities to work together, and in consultation with the local community, to redesign a regional security strategy that can put a final stop to these attacks.”