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More than 200 civilians have reportedly been killed in an ethnic attack in Ethiopia

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Hundreds of people are reported dead after an attack on civilians in a rural part of Ethiopia. The prime minister has called the attack unacceptable and said restoring peace and security is his government's priority. Ethiopia has been fighting a civil war since late 2020. NPR's Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta is in the capital, Addis Ababa. Hi, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What more can you tell us about this massacre?

PERALTA: I've been able to talk to two witnesses on the phone, and what they tell us is that fighters for the Oromo Liberation Army had been amassing in this region called Gimbi. And on Saturday morning, they started rampaging through small villages. One man we spoke to said that he lost three family members, but another family in his village had lost 21. So his pain, he said, was insignificant. Another man, Ahmed Abdella (ph), told us that he was farming, and when he heard gunfire, he came back to his village. He saw rebels going house to house. He says they were rounding up the ethnic amharas who had settled in this mostly Oromo region. Let's listen.

AHMED ABDELLA: (Through interpreter) They surrounded the village. And they put the people, 50 on one side, 30 or 26 on the other side. Using a sniper, they had been executing them.

PERALTA: He says in one mass grave, he helped bury 63 people. And out of those, 41 were kids under the age of 10. The OLA, the rebels in this region, say that they did not do this. They say that civilians were killed by government soldiers who were dressed to look like rebels. And we should note that I would be on my way to that village right now, but the government will not let me. So getting some ground truth on this is difficult.

SHAPIRO: I guess the big question, Eyder, is why? As we said, there has been a civil war raging for years, but this was a massacre of civilians. And it's not the first time this has happened.

PERALTA: It's a lot of things. I mean, look, Ethiopia's longtime government collapsed in 2018. And since then, we've seen government troops and armed groups in different parts of the country commit atrocities. Just this week, a video was circulated on social media that, according to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, showed government troops and allied Amhara militias taking Oromo men off a truck and executing them on the side of the road. So the ethnic group that was attacked this weekend was attacking when that video was taken. The analysts I talked to say that what is happening in Ethiopia is different groups which are organized by ethnicity, have different dreams for what this country should look like. And no one has found a peaceful way to negotiate this. So instead, it's turned into unthinkable violence.

SHAPIRO: The country has changed so quickly. Just a few years back, Ethiopia was relatively secure, economically prosperous. It was hailed as an African success story. Is the outlook right now as bleak as it seems from where we sit?

PERALTA: I think it's pretty bleak. For more than a year and a half, you know, Ethiopia has been fighting a civil war in the northern part of the country. And just as a peace process for that started to take root, other insurgencies in the south and northwest seem to be heating up. And each one of those conflicts is complicated with deeply held historical grudges. So it's hard to see any easy way out of this cycle of violence for Ethiopia.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Thank you for your reporting.

PERALTA: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.