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Ethnic clashes in Gambella region of Ethiopia between Nuer and Anyuak communities

January 29, 2016 (GAMBELLA) – Deadly clashes occurred on Thursday and continued on Friday in the Ethiopian region of Gambella between the two majority communities of Nuer and Anyuak in the area.

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Tens of thousands gathered at Gambella regional stadium celebrating cultural event of all tribes in Ethiopia, Gambella, 9 December 2015 (ST Photo)

Multiple sources told Sudan Tribune that dozens of people have been killed on both sides and many more wounded when members of Nuer and Anyuak, the two ethnic groups which constitute the first and second largest, respectively, in Gambella region, clashed in the outskirts regional capital, Gambella, and spread to the center of the town.

The cause of the fighting between the two dominant ethnic groups who have been living peacefully for many years has remained unclear with conflicting explanations.

A resident in Gambella town told Sudan Tribune that the Anyuak attempted to revenge for one of their members who got killed by Nuer village warriors in October last year in a Nuer village, about 40km away from Gambella town on Gambella-Nyinenyang road. The Anyuak victim was allegedly attempting to steal Nuer cows in the village where he met his fate, but his colleagues escaped unharmed and reported his death to their community members back home.

On Thursday, a Nuer government official in Gambella who was sent for official mission to Abobo, an Anyuak county headquarters, was killed by a mob of Anyuak warriors in the town, allegedly for revenge.

An eye witness who spoke on condition of anonymity however told Sudan Tribune on Friday that the latest clashes inside the town started when a member of the Anyuak community threw a hand grenade [bomb] at seated Nuer college students in an Anyuak neighborhood, south of the town, across the Gambella bridge, resulting to response by Nuer students and the clashes ensued.

The clashes lasted for hours inside the regional capital resulting to killing of unspecified number, but an eyewitness said dozens of bodies were found on the ground and many more unaccounted for.

The whole Anyuak population which resided in areas inside the main town have fled across the river, southwards, as their houses were reportedly set on fire by angry Nuer youth members.

There are reports that the fighting also escalated to nearby villages inhabited by the two ethnic groups in the region.

Government officials said the situation was arrested, but remained tense as the Anyuak could be returning for further attacks.

An official, who preferred to be referred to as Bol, said the state government has deployed police forces throughout the town to restore calm and allow the Anyuak population that fled the town to return.

“We have deployed police forces in the town and the situation is now calm,” he said.

He said he suspected that a long time militia group from the Anyuak, who have been against the Ethiopian government and allegedly supported by the South Sudanese government could be behind the instigation.

He however said an investigation was being carried out to ascertain the cause of the renewed enmity between the two communities, who despite being foes in the past, had successfully mended their relations for many years.

President [governor] of Gambella region, Gatluak Tut Khot, a Nuer, is said to have gone on a peace mission outside the capital to the areas inhabited by the two ethnic groups in order to reconcile them and restore peace and stability.

Gambella region is located west of Ethiopia, and it is 777km from Addis Ababa, the national capital. It is close to the South Sudanese border.

The two ethnic groups also share languages and cultures with their neighbouring communities across the border in Jonglei and Upper Nile states of South Sudan.