By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
August 18, 2016 (ADDIS ABABA) – An Ethiopian court on Monday charged 23 South Sudanese refugees over the premeditated slaying of 10 Ethiopian civilians in Gambella region, where tens of thousands of South Sudanese refuges are currently sheltered.
In April, a vehicle belonging to Action Against Hunger, a non-governmental organization, which was being driven by an Ethiopian employee, killed two South Sudanese children around Jewi refugee camp in Gambella.
The vehicle was on humanitarian mission.
But in retaliation, a group of South Sudanese refugees attacked innocent Ethiopians who reside around the camp, killing 10 of them yet they had no connection with the incident.
According to contents of the charge sheet readout by prosecutors in Ethiopia’s high court on Monday, the perpetrators planned to attack in advance and carried out “gruesome” murder in reprisal for the tragic car accident.
“On April 21, they used sticks and shovels to carry out gruesome killings," read the sheet.
"The 10 victims were all innocent Ethiopian civilians who were only employed as construction workers at the site,” it added.
The dead included two Ethiopian women and eight men who were working around the camp. The incident led to riots have around camp, retaliatory attacks and more casualties.
The 23 South Sudanese defendants appeared in court on Monday and their next hearing is due to resume on 13 October.
Gambella currently shelters more than 270,000 South Sudanese refugees of whom over 221,000 of them have arrived following the conflict which erupted in their home country in December 2013.
The April killings come on the heels of the violent cross-border raids carried out by ethnic Murle gunmen from South Sudan who killed 208 people.
The gunmen also abducted over 100 Ethiopian children and looted over 2,000 livestock.
Weeks later, dozens of the kidnapped children were recovered and returned home after South Sudan deputy Defense Minister who is also member of Murle tribe; David Yaw yaw in collaboration with regional administrators and clan leaders made negotiation with the abductors.
Earlier before negotiations start, Ethiopian defense forces were deployed at the common border to carry out cross-border military operation to rescue the abducted children.