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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
Ethiopian army 'kills 20 rebels'
Ethiopian security forces have killed 20 members of an illegal armed gang in the tense western Gambella region, the authorities say.

They said the group was behind a series of attacks on civilians - including Sudanese refugees - in the region.

In recent months the region has seen an upsurge in violence between rival ethnic groups in which some 200 people have been killed.

Officials said the men were killed in a gunbattle after refusing to surrender.

The group's leader - said to be a former military officer and escaped convict known as Major Kut - was believed to be among the dead.

The army also captured a member of the gang and seized radios and rifles in the raid on their hideout, according to a government statement.

'Army involvement'

Earlier this month, former Gambella governor Okello Akuaye accused soldiers of taking sides during three days of ethnic fighting last December.

He told the BBC's Network Africa programme that civilian highlanders, supported by the military, attacked local people.

Mr Akuaye - who fled the area in the aftermath of the clashes and is now seeking political asylum in Norway - said eyewitnesses had confirmed his allegations.

The government has denied any military involvement in the attacks, describing the fighting as between local ethnic Anuaks and highlanders.

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