The latest large-scale outburst of ethnic violence coincided with the return of 1,500 fighters from the Oromo Liberation Front, which had long been in exile in Eritrea. The first sign of tension appeared in Addis Ababa, as Oromo youth from their nearby heartland of Oromia flocked to the capital to welcome the returning separatists. Scuffles broke out when the young people started to paint the streets and walls of the capital with the green and red colors of the group’s flag.
Deadly violence spread to the Oromia region, particularly in the ethnically diverse town of Burayu, as well as the town of Ashewa Meda, leaving more than 20 people dead, according to local news outlets. Many of those killed were said to belong to minority groups in the Oromia region.
In the following days, about 35 people were killed in Addis Ababa and the region around the city, the authorities said. Some were killed by the police during protest demonstrations against the ethnic violence and what the protesters regarded as government inaction.
In an interview, Alemayehu Belete, 28, echoed a common complaint when he expressed dismay that the government had failed to prevent or stem ethnic violence. “It makes me question where the government stands on protecting its citizens,” he said.
The government’s widespread arrests over the last week may be aimed at changing that perception. So far, though, there is little indication that many of those arrested had much connection to the ethnic violence. In fact, many appear to have been arrested for petty offenses during sweeps over the last week of bars and clubs and other gathering spots across Addis Ababa.
On Monday, the city’s police commissioner, Degefe Bede, provided a tally, saying that about 1,200 people who are believed to have been involved in the unrest remained in custody. They had been taken to a military camp for “rehabilitation” as citizens and “taught how to be peacefully integrated with the community,” he said.
Nearly 175 other people will face charges related to the unrest, he said, and more than 1,000 other people have been arrested for a variety of petty offenses.
Amnesty International said in a statement that many of those arrested had been taking part in protests about the ethnic violence, adding that they “must all be released immediately and unconditionally.”