Armed group takes control of county in western Ethiopia - rights commission

The region is home to the strategically important Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

  

NAIROBI- An armed group has taken control of a county in western Ethiopia, the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said, citing reports that civilians had been killed and public servants kidnapped.

The commission said it had received reports that Sedal Woreda, in the Kamashi Zone of the western Benishangul-Gumuz Region, was "under near full control of an armed group as of April 19". It did not say which armed group it was referring to.

The woreda, or county, is home to around 25,000 people, the commission said in the statement issued late on Wednesday.

Local officials were not immediately available for comment.

The region is home to the strategically important Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a $4 billion project that Ethiopia says is key to its economic development and power generation but has caused fears in Egypt and Sudan over disruptions in supplies of water from the Nile.

Benishangul-Gumuz has seen a surge of ethnic violence in recent months, including an attack in December that killed more than 200 civilians. The region is home to many ethnic groups, including the Gumuz, Agaws and Shinasas and the Amhara, and has seen increasingly bloody attacks on civilians.

"Residents who have fled the area told EHRC that the armed group has burned down and looted public and private property and that the woreda (county) administration and local police have fled the area. There are also reports that civilians have been killed and public servants have been kidnapped," the commission said in a statement.

"According to residents and officials EHRC spoke to, a small contingent of the regional security force in the vicinity is outnumbered," the commission said.

Ethiopia is battling to contain multiple outbreaks of ethnic and political violence ahead of national elections in June.

Violence in a separate area last week killed at least 50 people from Ethiopia's two largest ethnic groups, the Oromo and Amhara. Residents of Bahir Dar, Amhara's regional capital, held a fourth day of protests against the killings.

"Over the past three years there has been identity-based attacks, killing and displacement of Amharas. Those who are responsible should be held accountable," said protester Asres Mare. The regional government-run Amhara Media Corporation also reported protests in the towns of Gondar and Debre Berhan.

(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom, Editing by George Obulutsa and Timothy Heritage) ((katharine.houreld@thomsonreuters.com; + 254 796 142 176;))

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