A member of the Amhara Special Forces watches on at the border crossing with Eritrea while where an Imperial Ethiopian flag waves, in Humera, Ethiopia, on November 22, 2020. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

At least 14 civilians and one police officer have died in the latest bout of ethnic violence in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, officials said Monday, adding to a toll already in the hundreds.

Dozens of homes have burnt to the ground and thousands of civilians have been displaced since Wednesday alone, many of them now huddling in schools and stadiums, the officials said.

Ethiopia’s military said Sunday it was sending in troops to try to calm the situation, which has amplified security concerns ahead of national elections planned for early June.

The Amhara region is dominated by the ethnic Amhara group, Ethiopia’s second-largest.

The violence there has hit the North Shoa zone and the Oromo special zone, the latter of which is populated mainly by Oromos, the country’s largest group.

Ethiopia’s chief ombudsman, Endale Haile, told AFP earlier this month that the violence in Amhara had killed more than 300 people over several days in March.

After a short period of calm, it flared up again last week.

“In this second round I’ve treated more than 30 injuries, and more than 10 people were killed,” Wondwossen Zeleke, a health official in the North Shoa district of Antsokia, told AFP Monday.

“I’m seeing unprecedented killings, displacement, and mass arson of homes. All those victims were by gunshots,” he said.

Teshome Yilma, administrator of North Shoa’s Majete city, told AFP at least four farmers were killed in one area and a police officer shot dead in a separate incident.

Both officials said they expected the true toll would be much higher once communications were fully restored in the area.

They pinned the violence at least partly on the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) rebel group.

But OLA spokesman Odaa Tarbii told AFP his group did not have a presence in the area and dismissed the claims as a pretext to drive Oromos out of Amhara.

– Abiy under pressure –

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, is under mounting pressure to address the violence.

The National Movement for Amhara, an opposition political party, on Monday criticised his response and said Amhara special forces should be empowered to protect civilians in the affected areas.

“It seems like the government is preventing the Amhara special forces from freely operating in the area and from taking down these armed criminals,” Dessalegn Chanie, a senior member of the party, told AFP, adding he did not trust the military to restore order.

Abiy came to power in 2018 after several years of anti-government protests staged by Amhara and Oromo youth.

But his tenure has been marred by ethnic violence, and analysts warn national elections scheduled for June 5 could bring further insecurity.

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