New York (OPride.com) –– Fierce fighting that began last week in two villages near Moyale town in Ethiopia left scores dead and several others wounded, eyewitnesses and reports said.
Fighting erupted when concerned villagers approached a heavily armed forces taking positions outside Camuq and Malab villages earlier in the week, eyewitnesses said. "Unknown armed men began firing at the villagers when they threatened to call in the Ethiopian military from the nearby military outpost, Shawa Bar," said Kokolfa Dafarsha in a phone interview from New York. Accounts of who is involved in the ensuing conflict, and why it started, vary.
Citing the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), international agencies have reported, the clash over land rights between Garrii and Borana communities have left at least 18 people dead and 12 others injured. According to KRCS statement, the fighting has also caused property loss and massive displacements of populations with a large number already crossing into Kenya.
The conflict, which started two kilometers away, eventually reached the town of Moyale on Thursday where a warehouse, two banks, and a police station were reportedly burned down. Both sides sustained heavy losses, Dafarsha told OPride in July 27 interview.
The Oromia regional government security spokesman confirmed property damage and heavy fighting that took place over three days and continued until Friday, said VOA journalist Henok Fente on Twitter.
The long-simmering dispute reached a boiling point when the Government of Ethiopia settled the Garris into the disputed lands that Boranas claim ownership, locals and the Kenya Red Cross Society said. According to AFP report, government spokesman, Bereket Simon, confirmed, “the spat was over administrative claims...and local authorities were not able to resolve the claims and counterclaims in a constructive manner so clashes ensued.”
But early eyewitness accounts alleged, "Ethiopian military and police conspicuously watched the townsfolk attempt to stop the invasion." The military has brought the conflict under control by noon on Friday.
Locals say the fighters, who carried heavy weaponry, spoke the Somali language and were not from the Garri tribe. Two eyewitnesses in Moyale told OPride, the ongoing clash was not like any seen before between the Boranas and the Garris. “The militia’s had weapons we have never seen before and had much more elaborate fighting tactics,” said one elder who gave his name only as Tarii. Moyale residents contacted for this report said, the gunmen were brought in from Somali region (Kilil 5) and a few captured during the fight claimed that they were al-Shabaab dropouts.
While security remains a major issue, most of the refugees are being hosted at local schools and temporary camps set up by Red Cross in Kinisa and Yaballo areas of Moyale. Preliminary registration to determine the actual displaced populations indicate more than 10,000 people require urgent humanitarian support, KRCS said in a statement. Emergency workers are carrying out an assessment to establish the humanitarian needs since most of the displaced people hardly have basic commodities, the group said.
Conflicts over water and grazing land between Garri, Borana, and the Gabra have been endemic to the area. Despite claims in international media, it is still not clear which group initiated, and why the current skirmish started.
Moyale is a border town between Kenya and Ethiopia, which has seen numerous conflicts over the years. In the past, in its pursuit of Oromo Liberation Front rebels, a group that fights for greater autonomy for the Oromo people, the Ethiopian government has harshly cracked down on the Borana people.