AFRICA/ETHIOPIA - Reports of more fighting in south west Ethiopia where ethnic tension, oil, gold and foreign interests make an explosive mixture

Monday, 16 February 2004

Gambella (Fides Service)- The situation is still confused in Gambella, south west Ethiopia, where international media say that since January 200 people have been killed and at least 10,000 have fled their homes because of conflict between Anuak peoples and mountain tribes. “I have no direct information about the reported recent episodes of violence” the Apostolic Prefect di Gambella Bishop Angelo Moreschi told Fides. “The area where the violence is said to have happened is about 100km from Gambella town and communication is difficult. I would think that the clashes began in the same way as violence in January after 8 local people working with a United Nations aid agency were killed and mutilated in an ambush some 20 km from Gambella. Although it was never ascertained, the local Nuer people accused the Anuak and a man hunt for Anuak began forcing many to flee from Gambella”.
“In the area of these reported latest clashes there is tension over the mining of gold present in abundance. The Nuer have found themselves confronted with the arrival of many other ethnic groups from all over Ethiopia attracted by the gold.
“I fear the clashes will not remain at the level of ethnic dispute. There is a danger of the violence turning into organised rebel guerrilla warfare against the central government. It is known moreover that several other countries are interested in creating confusion in Ethiopia and they might encourage the formation of local armed groups.”
Besides gold, the area is also rich in oil. A Malaysian company began prospecting some time ago. Ethiopia’s oil, gold, ethnic tension, foreign interests, make an explosive mixture. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 16/2/2004, lines 28 parole 344)