Addis Abeba – Residents say at least three civilians were killed and 12 more wee severely injured in recent clashes that flared between armed militias from the Oromia region and residents of the neighboring Somali region in the border area.
According to residents from the Somali side the clashes started on Friday, 13 January when workers who are commissioned by the government of Oromia region started executing construction of a dam in the border area of Marar Kebele, which the residents say is located inside Tulu Guled district of Fafan zone in the Somali regional state.
The construction work, taking place not far from Jigjiga, the capital of Somali region, faced rejections from the local residents who disputed the authority of the Oromia regional state government to unilaterally construct a dam inside Somali region.
A senior official close to the matter and who requested anonymity told Addis Standard that consensus was reached between officials from the Oromia and Somali regions to pause the construction of the dam while discussions were ongoing on the impacts of the dam on local communities from both sides. But the construction of the dam went on under circumstances that are not clear.
Muhiaden Haji Abib, an elderly from the Somali community in Marar kebele, told Addis Standard that “the [dam] project is used as a pretext by the Oromia region to expand its territories into the Somali region.”
He said that three civilians were killed and 12 others were severely injured by the Oromia militia on 13 January’s incident. Other reports by and activists from Somali region put the number of causalities as high as 16.
The project to construct a dam in the area was announced by Oromia regional state government six months ago, Muhiaden said, but from the get go, “we have expressed our concerns to the authorities of the Somalia region and other stakeholders that such move could bring a dispute between the regional states.”
Commander Ali Samire Sigas, Head of Border Affairs and Conflict Resolution Bureau of the Somali regional State, in his briefing to local journalists, on Tuesday, accused politicians from the Oromia region for working to expand territories near border areas, despite having brotherly relations with the Oromo people.
In criticizing officials from the Oromia region Ali said they were trying to build a dam in Marar Kebele which is inside the territory of the Somali region without agreement with Somali regional government or consultations with the local community.
He also noted that militias from the Oromia region killed civilians and injured many others following the clashes over the construction of the dam, and added that the construction has already displaced more than 2000 households of Somali communities from the area.
However, the Somali regional state communication bureau stated that Commander Ali was relieved of his duties due to his inability to fulfill his responsibilities, and that the statement he gave to the media was without legally handing over the responsibilities that were given to him after he was relieved of his duties.
The bureau further said that the Somali region declares the statement as “illegal” which “does not represent the position of the regional state’s government.
According to residents who spoke with Addis Standard, senior officials from the Oromia region visited the construction site of the dam a few weeks ago, raising tension among the residents of Marar Kebele and eventually leading to clashes with armed militias from Oromia region.
A communications officer from the Oromia Region Communication Bureau told Addis Standard that he doesn’t have any information in connection to the clashes.
In December last year, two people were killed and seven others were severely injured in Shilabo district of Korahe zone, in the Somali regional state, in a dispute after local authorities attempted to commence water borehole drilling.