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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

ETHIOPIA-SUDAN: 5,000 Anyuak flee instability

NAIROBI/ADDIS ABABA, 19 January 2004 (IRIN) - Since a spate of killings in mid-December, about 5,000 Sudanese and Ethiopian Anyuaks, including about 100 unaccompanied children, have fled from western Ethiopia to Pachala in southern Sudan, according to the UN and aid agencies.

Earlier figures had suggested that thousands more had arrived, but some of the Anyuaks may have been registered more than once by local authorities, according to a multi-agency assessment mission completed over the weekend.

"Residents say some 100 to 200 people are arriving daily," Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the Office of the United High Commissioner for Refugees, told IRIN. "They report walking for a week or more to reach the border and appear to be in reasonably good health. However, they are arriving with no possessions, not even to carry water [in]," he said, noting that most of them were young men aged between 14 and 25. "Local residents are providing some help to the new arrivals, who are also foraging in the countryside for food," he added.

Violence erupted in the Gambella region in mid-December after eight people, including three government officials, were murdered when a United Nations-plated vehicle they were travelling in was ambushed. The Anyuak, a local tribe, was blamed for the attack, and this sparked a wave of reprisal killings and the looting and burning of Anyuak homes.

The president of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (ERCHO), Prof Mesfin Wolde-Mariam, told reporters that in the run-up to being attacked, 5,000 Anyuaks had sought refuge in one of the town's churches, because soldiers had blocked the roads leading out of the town. "The mob, in collaboration with members of the [government] defence forces, continued to attack those who could not find anywhere to hide. Many were killed or sustained severe and light injures," he said.

The Anyuak also reported that they had been forced to flee because of a reprisal by the Ethiopian army, which had targeted them, regardless of whether they came from the Sudanese or Ethiopian sides of the border.

The government has dismissed the allegations as unfounded.

Tensions over land rights and political power already existing before the latest violence have exacerbated the fighting as rival groups seek revenge against one another.

According to the ERCHO, at least 93 Anyuaks were killed after the ambush on the UN vehicle, possibly even as many as 300.

Aid agencies believe that the existence of five refugee camps near the border with Sudan, housing 87,000 Sudanese refugees, has played a decisive role in fuelling the problems. It also raises concerns over how many other Sudanese may arrive, if security in Ethiopia does not stabilise.

Meanwhile, Okelo Akuai, the ethnic Anyuak president of Gambella Regional State, has vanished and is believed to have fled to Sudan along with his driver and two bodyguards, thereby fuelling further instability.

According to the federal authorities in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Ethiopian troops have been moved into the Gambella area to help restore calm, and arrests made of suspected perpetrators.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs



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