Caught in crossfire, Ethiopian minority tribe flees to Sudan

Monday, August 23rd, 2021 00:00 |
Members of the Amhara militia, that combat alongside federal and regional forces against northern region of Tigray, ride on the back of a pick up truck in the city of Gondar. Photo//AFP

Addis Ababa, Sunday

Dragged into a conflict not of their making, members of Ethiopia’s Qemant ethnic group say their only choice was fleeing to Sudan – marking another bleak turn in a widening war.

“Houses were burned and people killed,” said refugee Emebet Demoz, who, like thousands of others, ran from her village last month. “We couldn’t even take the bodies and bury them.”

Thousands have been killed since fighting erupted in November in Ethiopia’s northernmost Tigray region, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent in troops to topple the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the regional ruling party, saying the move came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps.

The violence has since sucked in other groups in bitter battles over land, and has spread from Tigray into Ethiopia’s neighbouring Amhara region, homeland of both the Amhara people and the ethnic minority Qemant.

Decades long dispute

Amhara fighters supported Abiy’s forces, in an attempt to settle a decades-long dispute over territory they claim was seized by the TPLF during its nearly three-decade rule before Abiy took power in 2018.

The Qemant have long chafed under the cultural and economic influence of the dominant Amhara people, and in recent years have called for self-rule.

A 2017 referendum on the question of creating a Qemant autonomous zone ended in rancour, with the resulting territorial dispute sparking increasingly frequent clashes between the two groups.

“The Amhara fighters backed by the government wanted us off our land,” 20-year-old Emebet said. “They are killing us because we’re an ethnic minority.”

But Amhara regional spokesperson Gizachew Muluneh squarely denied that members of the Qemant ethnic group were being targeted.

Tigrayan rebels

Amhara leaders say the Qemant’s quest for self-rule has largely been stoked by Tigrayan rebels, who they allege are fighting a proxy war by backing the group.

Gizachew said those described as refugees were “pro-terrorist TPLF and they are created by TPLF for the purpose of distracting Ethiopia and Amhara”.

The United Nations estimates about 200,000 people have been displaced from their homes in Amhara, where the violence is driving a wedge deeper between the ethnic groups.

“The Amharas wanted us to pick their side in the conflict against the Tigrayans,” said refugee Balata Goshi. “We refused to take sides, so they fought us.”

Clashes between the Amhara and Qemant forced thousands to flee in April this year, according to the UN’s humanitarian agency.

Qemant campaigners say their historic homeland includes villages bordering Sudan.  - Xinhua

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