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13 arrested in Ethiopia over killing of Oromo opposition figure

Saturday April 13, 2024

A criminal investigation has been launched into Bate Urgessa's killing

Police in Ethiopia have arrested 13 suspects over the killing of a prominent opposition figure from the restive state of Oromia, official regional media reported.

The body of Bate Urgessa of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) was found dumped on a road outside the town of Meki on Wednesday, shortly after he had been arrested by "government forces", the party said.

The United States, the European Union and Britain have joined rights campaigners in calling for a full investigation into the killing of Bate, an outspoken politician who had spent several years in and out of detention.

Police in the East Shawa zone where Meki is located have arrested 13 suspects over the shooting, the Oromia Broadcasting Network said on Facebook late Thursday, adding that Bate had been buried at a ceremony in Meki that day.

No details about the suspects were disclosed.

The 41-year-old Bate had been released on bail early last month following his arrest alongside French journalist Antoine Galindo in February.

But he was arrested again late on Tuesday by "government armed forces" at a hotel in his hometown of Meki, 150 kilometers south of the capital Addis Ababa, OLF spokesman Lemi Gemechu had told AFP.

"He was then briefly taken to a detention center in the city," Lemi said.

Bate's family said he was found dead on Wednesday morning on a road on the outskirts of Meki, he added.

'Justice and accountability’

There have been calls at home and abroad for a full investigation into his death.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) -- an independent state-affiliated body -- urged both the regional and central governments to conduct a "prompt, impartial and full investigation" into Bate's killing.

The United States also called for a full investigation, the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs said in a statement on X on Wednesday.

"Justice and accountability are critical for breaking the cycle of violence," it added.

The British ambassador in Ethiopia, Darren Welch, issued a similar message, adding: "As well as justice and accountability, political dialogue is needed to end the cycle of violence affecting civilians in Oromia."

The EU ambassador to Addis Ababa, Roland Kobia, also said he supported the EHRC call, saying on X: "This is part of the need to ensure accountability and justice, and reconciliation."

The largest and most populous region of Ethiopia, Oromia has been in the grip of an armed insurrection since 2018.

The OLF renounced armed struggle that year after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, himself an ethnic Oromo, came to power, prompting the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) to split from the party.

Federal forces have been fighting OLA rebels in Oromia ever since, while peace talks have failed to yield meaningful progress.

Classified as a "terrorist organization" and referred to as OLF-Shane by Addis Ababa, the OLA has been accused by the government of orchestrating massacres, which the rebels deny.

The authorities in turn are accused of waging an indiscriminate crackdown that has fueled Oromo resentment.

The Oromo ethnic group accounts for about a third of the 120 million inhabitants of Africa's second most populous country.


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