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Government says situation in Gambela improving

The Ethiopian government said on Monday that the situation in the volatile southwestern region of Gambela, where scores of people have been killed in ethnic clashes, mainly between the Anyuak and Nuer, has improved.

In a statement sent to IRIN by the Ministry of Federal Affairs, Ethiopia said that "the situation on the ground has come down to normality". It said security in the region had been beefed up, the perpetrators of the violence arrested, destroyed homes rebuilt and the provision of relief was ongoing.

"On 13 December 2003, a tragic riot took place in Gambela town, where innocent Anyuak civilians were cold-bloodedly killed and their houses burnt down by a mob of hooligans and their supporters, all of whom were non-indigenous. This was a culmination of previous problems that were simmering," the statement said.

The number of Anyuaks killed and wounded, the statement added, was surveyed by a task force organised by the regional government and found to total 56, but the figure could be as high as 60. The number of members of the same ethnic group wounded was found to be 74, while tukuls (houses) burnt down totalled 410 and belonged to 324 households.

According to the statement, a large population of students and pupils from the Anyuak nationality have not only discontinued schooling but have fled. "This is in contrast with the Nuers and other non-indigenous residents who had also run away, but the majority of whom are back and attending schools. The reason for fleeing from the town can only be fear from the violence (killing and burning)," it said.

After a period of relative calm lasting almost three weeks, more extensive killings of people reportedly occurred on 30 January in the Dima district of Gambela, bordering on Sudan, the statement said.

"The regional government reported 196 people killed, of whom 172 were traditional miners mainly from the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples [Regional] State... The Ministry of Defence figures were 81 people killed, and not 196," it said. "There was no difference on who the perpetrators were: these were 200 armed Anyuaks ostensibly posing as leaders of the Anyuak people."

Another four people were killed on 18 February, in an ambush. "On 21 February, the same armed men burnt settlement number 13 down to ashes early in the morning... As a result, 23 people were killed and 14 wounded. These innocent and peaceful settlers [were] from highland Ethiopia," it said.

According to the statement, about 37 of more than 60 suspects involved in the killings and burning of houses were verified, and a federal prosecutor has started examining the records, finalising them for federal courts. "In Dima, about 40 suspected perpetrators were arrested and a team of federal and regional police investigators have been sent [there]."

"Once the normal functions of state and public services are in place, a fresh and new turnaround towards rapid development is mandatory... The lasting solution to the incessant conflict in Gambela is rapid and speedy development with grass-roots (indigenous people's) support. Federal intervention is aimed at creating a conducive and enabling environment for improved governance and palpable development initiatives," the government said.

Gambela is located in southwestern Ethiopia bordering on Sudan. There have been persistent conflicts between the Nuer (population 90,517) and the Anyuak (62,586). There are also other minority groups in the region. "The Nuers felt marginalised and the Anyuak elite were not willing to give away their domination. This led to a chain of ethnic conflicts in the year 2001/02," the statement said.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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