Violence in Ethiopia’s eastern Somali region has reportedly left an unknown number of civilians dead and thousands of others displaced over the weekend.
The patriarchy of Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church in the regional capital Jijiga, where thousands have sought refuge, reported the news to state media on Monday, without providing details on what had sparked the clashes as well as numbers of the dead and displaced.
The violence, however, seems to have broken out after the presence of government troops in several towns that led to clashes with mobs looting and burning property and shops owned by ethnic minorities in the region.
Abune Mathias, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, said churches and priests had been harmed in the violence.
“A total of seven churches were set ablaze and priests killed in the attacks. Civilians were also killed and thousands displaced,” Abune Mathias told state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate.
Ethiopia’s Defense Ministry had confirmed the deployment of soldiers in a statement at the weekend.
“The violence has not been halted despite attempts by defense forces and other security forces to restore calm,” the ministry said on Saturday. “Hence, as the region’s peace and security have come under threat, our defense forces will not remain silent in the face of unrest and chaos and will take necessary measures in accordance with constitutional obligations.”
The Somali region has seen sporadic violence for three decades. The government has fought the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) since 1984 after the group launched a bid for secession of the Somali region, also known as Ogaden.
Since 2017, clashes along the region’s border with Oromiya Province have displaced tens of thousands of people.
In July, the region’s officials were accused by the government in Addis Ababa of committing rights abuses. Last month, authorities fired senior prison officials there over allegations of torture.