Twenty three people were killed in a weekend of violence targeting minorities in the ethnic Oromo heartland, near the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, a police source said on Monday.
The unrest followed a mass rally on Saturday marking the return to Ethiopia of the leadership of the exiled Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) group, which had fought an insurgency for self-determination for Oromos, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.
The incidents are the latest in a spate of attacks carried out along ethnic lines since reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali came to power in April, the first Oromo leader in the ethnically diverse country’s modern history.
On Sept. 15, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the capital of Ethiopia to welcome leaders of the OLF, the latest members of a formerly-banned rebel group to return home, following a string of political reforms in the country.
The jubilant crowd waving OLF flags gathered at Addis Ababa’s Meskel Square on Saturday, where a large concert was held to welcome the group’s leader Dawud Ibsa and others, while similar events were held in Ethiopia’s Oromia region.
“I am happy to be here after 26 years of struggle from outside of Ethiopia,” Ibsa said. “We will be a part of the peaceful struggle,” he added.
“We have been struggling to bring the changes that we are seeing now in Ethiopia. We are now seeing positive signs that include the respect for rule of law. That’s why we came here,” said Ibsa.
Ahmed – who, in April, became the first Oromo to hold the post – has introduced a number of reforms since assuming office and the release of jailed dissidents, the unblocking of websites and moves to liberalise the economy.
The OLF was founded as a political organisation in 1973 to advocate the “right to national self-determination” for the Oromo people, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, against what they perceived as “Abyssinian colonial rule”.
The group had a falling out with the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front in 1992 and soon began launching armed attacks.
In response, the government banned it and later declared it a terrorist organisation.
The crackdown on OLF deepened resentment among Oromos, whose months of anti-government protests, which also spread to the Amhara region, led to the resignation of former Prime Minister, Hailemarian Desalegn earlier this year and his replacement by Ahmed.
In July, the ban on OLF and two other groups was lifted as part of the prime minister’s efforts to bring various opposition groups back into Ethiopian politics.
Analysts say that with the return of Ibsa, the last bastion of armed struggle in Ethiopia has come to an end.