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‘Finish us Off’: Ethiopia’s Qemant Minority Ethnic Group Say Targeted in Armed Campaign

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on October 6, 2021

ዛሬ በብቸኛነት ለፍትሕ እና ሕልውናቸው እየታገሉ ካሉት ከጽዮናውያን ተጋሩ፣ አገው እና ቅማንት ኢትዮጵያውያን ጎን ያልቆመ በጭራሽ ክርስቲያንም፣ ኢትዮጵያዊም፣ የእግዚአብሔር ልጅም አይደለም!

Government officials maintain focus of operations in region is suspected rebels allied with Tigrayan forces and not civilians.

Amare says he had two options.

It was either leave home or be killed,” he told Al Jazeera from the safety of a United Nations-run refugee camp in the Basinga village in Sudan’s Gadarif state bordering Ethiopia.

The 20-year-old student, a member of Ethiopia’s Qemant minority ethnic group, fled to the camp to escape what he says was a raid by Ethiopian soldiers on Shinfa, a town in Ethiopia’s Amhara region some 10km (six miles) from the Sudanese border, on June 13.

“They shot at anyone who moved, including the elderly. I’m lucky to be alive,” he said in a phone interview from the camp. “They want to cleanse the Amhara region of the Qemant,” he added. “They’re trying to finish us off.”

Amare is among a growing number of Qemant to level such accusations against Ethiopian troops and allied militias affiliated with the country’s Amhara regional government.

Government officials maintain that civilians are not being targeted by their offensive in Amhara, which they say is linked to the country’s 11-month war that initially pitted forces loyal to the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) – the governing party of nearby Tigray region – against the national armies of Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea. The fighting in Tigray has killed thousands, displaced millions and has led to a humanitarian crisis that has left hundreds of thousands facing famine-like conditions. In June, Tigrayan forces launched a counterattack that saw them retake much of their region and expand fighting into the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions.

But in the fog of the war, military operations and mob violence in disputed territories in the northwest of the Amhara region have also led to the displacement of thousands of ethnic Qemant civilians from their homes.

The Qemant live in the Amhara region and are physically and linguistically indistinguishable from the ethnic Amhara, Ethiopia’s second-largest ethnic group who account for nearly a quarter of Ethiopia’s 112 million people.

The Qemant have long complained of marginalisation, struggling even for recognition – in 2007, they were completely omitted from Ethiopia’s census, and today there are no confirmed population figures for the Qemant, who are believed to number many more than the 172,000 last counted in 1994. Meanwhile, requests for regional autonomy by Qemant rights groups have had them at odds with the ethnic Amhara with whom they share a region.

At a news conference in April, the former Amhara regional President Agegnehu Teshager, whose term ended this week, alleged that Qemant “extremists” had formed militias allied with the Tigrayans, although he did not present evidence to support his claim.

“We are fighting a war against Qemant extremists who trained in Sudan and are armed by the TPLF,” he said. “They have already fired on our forces.”

Refugees in Sudan told Al Jazeera that a number of Qemant youths have taken up arms in response to constant raids on their communities. Al Jazeera could not independently verify this, and there is little to no data on the formal founding of a Qemant force or its capacity.

Ethiopia’s government maintains that its forces are in the area to search for suspected Qemant rebels and secure the country’s border from possible infiltrators from Sudan.

But satellite imagery analysis, witness accounts and photographic evidence gathered by Al Jazeera point instead to the involvement of the Ethiopian military and allied militias in the destruction of Qemant communities. Residents have also accused Ethiopian troops of watching idly as allied militias carry out often macabre killings against civilians.

“They have dragged people from homes and butchered them in the streets,” said a man who fled to Gondar following a raid on his hometown. Requesting anonymity due to fears for his security, he accused members of a local Amhara militia known as the Fano of killing more than a dozen Qemant civilians in this manner during a murderous rampage that took place in the town of Aykel between September 1 and 2.

“They kill, steal what they want and leave. This has been happening for months,” he said on the phone

UK-based non-profit research organisation Vigil Monitor, which has been documenting atrocities across Ethiopia since the breakout of war in November of last year, worked in tandem with Al Jazeera and studied satellite imagery provided by Planet Labs, a private satellite operator, of areas identified by at least a dozen displaced people as having been heavily affected by military operations. The imagery revealed widespread destruction of some 557 civilian structures spanning from May 2021 until the present, largely corroborating witness accounts.

“Over 500 structures have been destroyed deliberately in the Shinfa river area across four settlements,” the organisation said in a written assessment of the imagery. “Affected areas with damage observed in satellite imagery have suffered worsening episodes of violence.”

Vigil Monitor added that different settlements suffered varying degrees and means of violence consistent with time periods and accounts given by witnesses.

“It appears that attacks in the Chilga and Shinfa areas began at least in April,” the organisation said. “We’ve noted significant escalations since then including the mobilisation of Amhara regional forces and the Ethiopian army, the employment of artillery and widespread burning of civilian areas.”

Al Jazeera reached out to Ethiopia’s Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Peace for a response to the allegations but did not receive a response by the time of publication.



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