“Yesterday we buried 207 people who are the victims and 15 more from the attackers,” said the volunteer, identified as Melese Mesfin on Friday as quoted by Reuters.
The attack occurred last Wednesday in the village of Bekoji in Bulen County in the Metekel zone, but Ethiopia’s state-appointed Human Rights Commission initially put the number of those killed at more than 100 people.
The massacre by unidentified gunmen marked the latest deadly attack in an area bedeviled by ethnic violence.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed described the assault as a “massacre” and deployed federal troops to the region the next day.
“The massacre of civilians in Benishangul-Gumuz region is very tragic,” Abiy said on Twitter. “The government, to solve the root causes of the problem, has deployed a necessary force.”
The military has so far killed 42 armed suspects accused of involvement in the assault on the village, according to local press reports.
“The Ethiopia Defense Force has destroyed 42 anti-peace forces who attacked civilians yesterday” in the Metekel zone of Benishangul-Gumuz, the regional government said in a statement on Thursday.
The state-affiliated Fana TV, citing unnamed regional officials, also confirmed the news, saying government troops had managed to seize bows and arrows and other weapons from the armed men.
Meanwhile, Bulen County spokesman Kassahun Addisu further stated that more than 40,000 people have so far fled their homes due to the fighting. He also announced that the county had buried 207 people.
Ethiopia has been struggling with outbreaks of deadly violence since Prime Minister Abiy was appointed in 2018 and reportedly engaged in accelerated political reforms that relaxed the government’s iron grip on regional rivalries.
Abiy, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2019, has accused rebel forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the region’s ruling party, of launching deadly attacks on a pair of federal military camps in the region. He has also accused the party of defying his government and seeking to undermine it.
The Ethiopian military has so far carried out a number of massive attacks against the purported positions of rebel forces loyal to the TPLF in the Tigray region. The violence, however, has forced a large number of people to flee the region and cross the border into neighboring Sudan, which itself struggles with severe economic problems.
This is while the country’s next elections, due in June, have further exacerbated ethnic and regional rivalries over land, power and resources.