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Wednesday, 21 August, 2002, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Ethiopia officials held over violence
Ethiopian protestors
Various ethnic groups have staged violent protests

The Ethiopian Government has arrested 10 of its own officials accusing them of instigating violence in the Southern Region.

They are members of parties involved in the coalition government.

They are accused of responsibility for the loss of life, injuries and damage to property when violence erupted in the town of Awassa in May, in Tepi in March and in the districts of Burji and Amaro last year.

More than 100 people are thought to have died in the clashes.

The European Union demanded that the Ethiopian Government investigate and take action over the violence.

Immunity lifted

The 10 officials were arrested at the weekend, according to Haile Mariam Desalegn, President of Ethiopia's Southern Nations, Nationalities and People's Regional State (SNNPRS).

He said the arrests were made following the decision last week to lift their immunity from prosecution.

Ethiopia's ethnic mix
More than 70 languages are spoken in Ethiopia as mother tongues
The most widely spoken languages are Amharic, Tigrinya, Oromigna, Guaragigna, Somali and Arabic
The main ethnic groups are the Oromo 40%, Amhara and Tigre 32%, Sidamo 9%, Somali 6%, Afar 4%, Gurage 2%, other groups 7%

Five of the officials are accused of involvement in May's disturbances in the southern Ethiopian town of Awassa, which left at least 15 dead.

The violence started when police clashed with hundreds of protesters from the majority Sidama ethnic group in the region, who were demonstrating against the government decision to change the political status of the regional capital Awassa.

Awasa is administered by the Sidama ethnic group, who make up four million of Ethiopia's 65 million population.

Fearing that the change which would lead to Awassa being administered by central government, hundreds of Sidama people took to the streets.

They protested that the change would jeopardise their rights to land they had cultivated for decades.

The five officials arrested for this incident are members of the Sidama People's Democratic Organisation (SPDO), part of the ruling coalition government.

They were also dismissed from the SPDO.

Three of the 10 officials arrested are accused of involvement in the Tepi massacre in March, in which at least 128 died, and two officials are accused of instigating the violence in the Burji and Amaro areas last year.

Quell uprisings

Diplomatic sources claim that the officials, who include the president of the SPDO Girma Chuluko, opposed moves to bring Awassa under federal jurisdiction and openly condemned the government's security forces for opening fire on the demonstrators.

Since the clashes took place, the Ethiopian Government has reacted quickly to quell any uprisings that could jeopardise peace and security in the area.

Ethiopian soldier
The army has been used to suppress protests

But despite their attempts, the situation still remains fluid.

Just last month, Fotella Wotole - a senior official from the Sidama People's Democratic Organisation - was assassinated by what the government called "anti-peace elements".

Investigations are continuing and 28 people have so far been arrested for gunning down of Mr Fotella and instigating the Awassa disturbances.

Trials in October

Seven of those arrested and accused of instigating the violence in the south have already appeared in court.

They were charged with provoking violence and terror against the people and government, causing loss of life and disrupting the peace.

The accused have denied the charges and their request for bail has been turned down by the Sidama Zone High Court.

They are due to appear in Court in October.

See also:

05 Jul 02 | Africa
29 Jun 02 | Africa
10 Jul 01 | Africa
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