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Conflict in parts of Oromia Regional State that led to havoc with reported deaths and damage to public and private properties, has continued throughout the week. The conflict first started three weeks ago in western Oromia and has gradually spread throughout the region, also affecting parts of Addis Ababa.
The government has confirmed that several individuals have lost their lives and many have been injured in the unrest over the last few weeks but the exact death toll has not been disclosed.
Early this week, Getachew Reda, Minister of Government Communication Affairs Office, told journalists that protests have turned seriously violent in some part of the region, centered around five zones in particular. The Minister said that the protesters were not peaceful; they have demolished public property, government officials’ residential houses and destroyed successful farms.
The issue has also attracted the international media. The human right group, Amnesty International, has expressed concern in a statement released mid week. The group claimed that the number of deaths has reached 40.Opposition groups have also stated that the death toll has passed 30.
The Minister confirmed that the protesters have blocked roads that connect the capital to western parts of the country, and that some areas affected by the conflict were out of control early this week. The government shall take adequate measures against the protesters, according to Getachew.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, also spoke on the state owned television station, saying that the government is responsible for calming the nation. The government has also claimed that, supporting the conflict are extremists and others interested in changing the government.
On Friday, observers disclosed that there was some unrest in the western outskirts of Addis Ababa. Students of universities and high schools surrounding affected areas have been blamed for much of the destruction, and are said to have played a great role in enflaming conflict.
At the core of the violence is the ‘new master plan’, drafted over a year ago to integrate Addis Ababa and the Oromia Special Zone Surrounding of Addis Ababa. Despite reassurances by federal and regional governments that the master plan will no longer be carried out, protestors have continued to confront and clash with security forces.
This is not the first bout of conflict attributed to the controversial plan. When it was first announced in early 2014violence erupted leading to several deaths and damage to property.
At it’s initial announcement, several actors expressed concern to the Addis Ababa and Surrounding Oromia Integrated Development Plan Project Office that the plan may displace farmers in Ormoia region. In response to such concerns and unrest in 2014, officials were quick to reassure the public that the plan will not be implemented before in-depth discussion with concerned populations.
Almost two years on, discussions with the public are yet to be held. At a press conference held on Wednesday, December 16, Getachew argued that the issue was not publicly discussed as the plan is still at a draft stage.
“It was not even discussed with stakeholders. Such discussions would have been held before discussions with the general public,” he explained.
He claimed that the protesters’ agenda is not to initiate discussion about master plan, and instead seek to destabilize the country.
Despite repeated announcements from regional and federal government officials that the master plan will not be implemented, it is still unclear if the Addis Ababa and Surrounding Oromia Integrated Development Plan Project Office has abandoned the master plan.
Early this week, the Addis Ababa City Administration disclosed that the project office has been closed in the 2013/14-budget year, after having completed its duties. But on Tuesday, December 15, the state owned Amharic daily, Addis Zemen published vacancy announcement for the supposedly non-existent project office. Since then, the newspaper has issued an apology claiming that the vacancy announcement was published mistakenly.
Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Addis Ababa is one of Oromia Region’s zones created in 2008 from former Burayu Special Zone and parts of North Shewa, East Shewa, South West Shewa and West Shewa Zones. Several attempts to integrate this area into the vast expanding Addis Ababa have been and continue to be controversial.