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ETHIOPIA: Central government apologises for Gambella massacreADDIS ABABA, 5 March 2004 (IRIN) - The Ethiopian government said on Friday that it had apologised to local tribes for its inadequate response to prevent a massacre in the troubled western region of Gambella. A statement released by the federal affairs ministry said the government had not performed "proactively", but promised that the killers would be brought to justice.
At least 60 people were murdered when fighting erupted in Gambella town in December, almost all of them members of the Anyuak ethnic group. UK officials say up to 150 were killed.
"The government has apologised for not acting proactively and promised to stand on the side of the victims to see that justice is done," said the statement, issued on Friday.
Federal authorities have started sifting through evidence of the massacre with the aim of ensuring that the alleged instigators can be tried. Some 37 people have been identified. Forty others, suspected of involvement in clashes at a gold mine in Dima, in Gambella region, on 30 January, in which up to 200 people were killed, had also been seized, the statement added.
The Ethiopian government has come under pressure from the international community to ensure that a full inquiry is instituted and to investigate claims that troops and police were involved in the killings. "Now that a sizeable contingent of the federal police have taken over, the victims might feel more confident than before," the ministry’s statement said.
A strong military presence was reported in the area in response to an appeal by the local authorities in Gambella for federal intervention after the crisis got out of control. However, clashes in the remote region, which is rich in oil and gold, were still continuing, with sporadic attacks and killings having occurred throughout February.
The latest troubles were sparked by the murders of eight government refugee workers when their vehicle was attacked in December. The bodies of the men, which were badly mutilated, were paraded around Gambella town, provoking brutal reprisal attacks on Anyuaks, who were blamed for the killings.
An investigation team, led by the minister of federal affairs, Gebreab Barnabas Gezahe, said the reprisals infuriated the local Anyuak. "They regretted that the government, including the federal government, should have [but had not] detected the danger and prevented the violence," the statement noted. "They argued that there were adequate signals and symptoms suggesting a mounting tension."
Anyuak children have stopped going to school, and large numbers of the group have fled the area, many of them across the border into neighbouring Sudan. Gambella, which has a total population of 228,000, is ethnically diverse in that it is home to members of the Nuer, Anyuak, Majanger, Komo and Opo tribes. Also resident in the region are about 60,000 people from other parts of Ethiopia, known locally as highlanders.
The federal authorities are currently training some 300 indigenous police officers to help stabilise the situation and prevent further outbreaks of violence. The authorities are also now looking to traditional elders to help restore calm, and appealing to the youth and working with civil servants to bring the situation under control.