At least 21 people have been killed in two days of intense fighting between ethnic groups in southern Ethiopia amid escalating violence that has sent hundreds fleeing across the border to neighbouring Kenya.
The violence broke out on Thursday and Friday near the town of Moyale, on the border with Kenya, in a region claimed by both the Oromo, the largest ethnic group in the country, and the Somali ethnic group.
The fighting also wounded 61 others, the state-affiliated Fana radio reported, citing the Oromia regional state communication office.
Outbreaks of violence in the south between Oromos and other groups escalated since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – the first Oromo leader in Ethiopia’s modern history – assumed office in April.
An internal United Nations report, dated December 13 and reviewed by the Reuters news agency, also confirmed the fighting, with heavy artillery being used, and said there was likelihood the conflict could spill over into Kenya.
An Ethiopian source in the capital in touch with people in Moyale said at least several dozen people had so far died in the fighting, which was more intense than previous clashes in the same area earlier in the year.
Patrick Mumali, Moyale sub-county deputy commissioner, confirmed late on Friday that hundreds of Ethiopians crossed the border to Kenya.
Early this year, at least 5,000 Ethiopians were forced to seek refuge in Kenya after several civilians were killed in what the Ethiopian army said was a botched operation targeting rebels in the country’s south.
“People have been killed, business premises bombed and torched, houses have also been set ablaze in the fight between Oromo and Somali Garre fighters,” said Wario Sora, a human rights activist from Moyale on the Kenyan side.
In the Oromiya region, the largest in the country, there are at least four separate conflicts along ethnic lines in addition to a border dispute that risks erupting into new violence, aid groups say.