Monday, September 25, 2023
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The massacre against the civilian population of Garba Issa- Sitti Zone of the Somali Region

By Sitti Diaspora Community

On Saturday 24 July, at around 8 a.m., several hundred heavily armed and motorized men attacked the village of Garba Issa, on the Djibouti-Addis Ababa highway, 320 km from the Ethiopian Capital. After liquidating the few men who defended the inhabitants, they entered the village on foot and in vehicles and killed anyone they met on their irrespective of whether they were old men, women and children. According to the testimonies collected by mobile phone from the survivors, the attackers went on a cold-blooded rampage throughout the day, breaking into the shops, houses and huts on either side of the alleyways and dragged out the terrified inhabitants and slit their throats on the spot or execute them at close range.

Those who took refuge in the village’s main mosque were not spared. The holy place was taken over by the attackers to pursue their victims and the minaret was destroyed by rocket fire. Those who went to seek refuge and protection in the Federal Police and Federal Army barracks suffered the same fate. According to the latest count, the number of victims is at least 150 dead  and 170 wounded (to be verified). The victims included old people, women, young small children. What happened in Garba Issa on the 24th July is a real ethnic cleansing against the Somali-Issa populations of Ethiopia.

The perpetrators of this massacre were members of the Afar Regional State Police (Liyu Police), fighters of the Arduf-Uguguumo Front and Afar militiamen who were enlisted in this terrible ethnic cleansing operation. The objective was to provoke an act of terror so that the inhabitants of Garba Issa would leave the area forever and thus liberate the “sacred land of the Afar”. The village of Garba Issa is located on a strategic axis, the main Djibouti-Addis Ababa road where more than 80% of Ethiopian trade passes.

Several days before this tragedy, the inhabitants of Garba Issa had been warned by officials of the Ethiopian Federal Forces, stationed in the village, who were supposed to defend them from Afar forces that they would’ve attacked as soon as the federal soldiers leave the village to go to the frontline of the war against the Tigreans.

Worried by this information, the villagers alerted the Somali Regional and Federal State authorities of this imminent danger. No action was taken by the relevant Somali Regional and Federal State authorities to protect these civilians; and thus committing a serious security breach of their responsibility.

Unfortunately, this act of irresponsibility is part of a long series of failures that have led to the worsening of the situation in this part of the Sitti zone. Indeed, for several years, the civilian population of Somali/Issa ethnicity residing in the western part of Sitti zone have been the target of serious crimes and human rights violations such as: summary executions, forced displacements, and arbitrary imprisonments.

These atrocities against the residents of the area were perpetrated by the Afar Regional State Armed Forces, the paramilitary unit known as the Liyu Police, the Afar fighters belonging to ARDUF-Uguguumo Front and elements of the Ethiopian Federal Regular Army.

The incessant punitive raids carried out by these forces have caused the death of at least 2400 civilians, including women, children and the elderly, 3500 wounded and more than 40,000 displaced people, in a dozen of villages along the border between Somali Region and Afar Region in the past three years. During these incursions, which have become increasingly frequent since 2019, the Afar Regional State Police and ARDUF-Uguguumo, sometimes supported by Ethiopian Federal Forces, engage in mass killings, looting and arson of Somali/Issa homes and businesses. Thus, several villages, i.e. Danlahaley, Adeyti, Garba Issa, etc., have been burnt down and more than 15,000 houses have been destroyed to date.

The main purpose of these exactions is to make the populations of Somali origin flee and thus carry out an ethnic replacement in the agglomerations located in the extreme west of the Sitti area. A report published on 31 January 2020 by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), reported these atrocities, estimating that 78,000 ethnic Somali/Issa people were driven from their lands between July and October 2019

The scale and ferocity of the terrible Garba Issa massacre of 24 July 2021 marks aturning point in the attacks carried out in recent years by Afar soldiers and militiamen.

Following is partly few the recorded crimes which were gathered from reliable information:

– 6 January 2019:
Attack of the village of Undufo (Cundhufo in Somali Region) causing 10 people killed and 25 injured;
– 15 January 2019:
Deadly raid on Danlahelay locality, causing 10 civilians killed and a hundred injured
– 23 January 2019:
Assault on the hamlet of Jiijale, causing 2 persons killed and 30 injured;

– 4 February 2019:
Massacre in Adeyle (Cadayle) – 42 dead, around 100 injured;
– 2 May 2019:
Incursion in Madane – 11 dead
– 27 May 2019:
Attack on Allaale – 15 dead, around 20 injured;
– 6 June 2019:
Assault on Beeyo Tamari – 14 dead, 21 injured;
– 27 July 2019:
Deadly raid on Adeyti (Cadayti) – 11 dead and around 30 injured;

– 30 October 2020:
Attack on Garba Isse (Garba-Ciise) – 20 dead, around 30 wounded, 100 people kidnapped and looting of the village;
– 9 March 2021:
Attack on Shagle – about 10 dead and 20 wounded;
– 6 April on Shogle:
New massacre in Adeyti (Cadayti) –
More than 100 dead, 1,300 wounded, 4,000 people forcibly evicted from their homes,destruction of the town by fire.

 These attacks have increased and worsened since the new Somali Regional State Government responded in May 2019 to the recurrent demands of the people of Sitti Zone and rejected the transfer of the three villages of Garba-Issa, Undufo and Adeytu to Afar regional State. This transfer, which was carried out in full constitutional illegality by the TPLF regime in 2014, far from solving the problem, exacerbated tensions between the Afar and Somali communities. The site “Africa Intelligence” reported this decision’s arbitrary heavy-handedness against the Somali/Issa population and its eventual consequences in an article published on October 3, 2014 in these terms:

“The Afar Regional State has recovered, at the expense of the Issa, a strategic area along the Addis Ababa – Djibouti corridor, which must now be secured”.

To bring peace and cooperation between these two neighbouring communities several Agreements have been concluded, under the arbitration of the Federal Government, between the Afar and Somali regional States, in the presence of their two traditional Chiefs ( the Ugaas of Issa the Sultan of Afar) in Adama in January 2020, in Diré Dawa in September 2020 and in Addis Ababa in May 2021.

All these agreements have been systematically violated by Afar forces and militia, sometimes just few days after the signature and under the eyes of the federal forces stationed in the area. There has been no sanction or prosecution of those who carried out these attacks. Worse, it is often the Somali population that is prevented from defending itself against the attackers and is subjected to the interventions of the federal forces stationed in the localities concerned.

Thus, instead of applying the existing constitutional provisions to settle such territorial disputes, the Ethiopian Federal Government has chosen to pursue the same policy of the TPLF regime.

A History of Marginalisation and Repression

It is important to understand the historical and socio-political causes of this situation.

All Ethiopian authoritarian regimes, from Haile Selassie to the current government of Abiy Ahmed, have treated this population as second-class citizens and sometimes as enemies of the State. Any social or political problem that arises is generally resolved by repression, with the military using disproportionate and often indiscriminate violence against civilians

These repressions and massacres of Somali civilians have followed one another in the wake of the conflicts between Ethiopia and the Republic of Somalia. They are part of a constant policy of the Ethiopian central state to terrorise, marginalise and dispossess the Somali populations of their territories that are rich in natural resources such oil, water, minerals besides being located on strategic axes leading to access to the sea. In this endeavour, one of the tactics used to this day is to accuse the Somalis of expansionism and separatism, to incite other communities against them and support their claims to take over Somali territories. It is within this political strategy that the military and political support of the central government to the Afar attacks on the Somali/Issa population in the Sitti zone should be situated.

The fallacious argument used to justify the systematic alignment of the Ethiopian Central State with the Afar remains the same, despite the changes of regime: accusations of Somali rebellions against national order and security, of working with foreign enemy i.e. Somali or Djiboutian Intelligence or even Al Shabab terrorists, depending on the situation, to destroy Ethiopia, of expansionist ambition to expropriate and dominate the Afar, of contraband smuggling activities that harm trade and so on.

This is the same argument that is still put forward today in official and media reports regarding the situation in this region; thus, justifying the violations and atrocitiescommitted against the Somali/ Issa population.

The attacks and killings that take place there have never been recognised by the central state and remain poorly documented. In a document entitled “Treatment of Ethiopian Issa, of Somali ethnicity, by Ethiopian military and governmental authorities”, published on 1st February 1990, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) mentioned, already at that time, this criminal persecution which increased the number of Ethiopian refugees in Canada: “Information recently obtained from the Canadian Department of External Affairs indicates that the Issa and other Somali clans in Ethiopia are victims of periodic violence by the government.”

Responsibility of the Somali regional state authorities

The Garba Issa massacre should serve as a lesson to all those who are concerned about the security of the Somali population in this region.

The false promises of relief and neutral intervention by the Ethiopian federal forces should no longer be an illusion. In the current situation in Ethiopia, the responsibility for the defence of its people lies with the Somali regional state forces. The authorities in the region must abandon their irresponsible and cowardly stance and provide the means to ensure protection and security. To do this, they must maintain police forces in all localities where Somali populations are threatened and organise a large mobilisation of the population to help them ensure this protection.

At a time when the attention of the international community is focused on the situation in Tigray, it is important to remind the national and international community that other tragedies are being played out in Ethiopia, particularly in Sitti. The principles of equity and justice must compel them to take prompt action to stop the killings of civilians in this stricken region.

Sitti Diaspora Community
Brussels, Belgium
E-mail: [email protected]

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