Oromo protesters will not cease their demonstrations against the Ethiopian's government plan to expand its capital Addis Ababa despite the fact that more than 100 people have been killed, a member of the Oromo community in London told IBTimes UK.
Etan Habte, author and PhD candidate at London's Soas University, said protests against the expansion are still ongoing in Ethiopia's Oromia state and the number of demonstrators varies every day, according to the army presence in the state.
"The protest has not been completely defeated, it is going on and is causing much trouble to the government," he said, adding that the death toll stands now at 160 people. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 140 people have been killed so far.
"Protesters are using different strategies, shifting from west to east," Habte continued. "The western part of Oromia is now overwhelmed by the national army and paramilitary forces, so protesters have now shifted towards the east.
"The number of protesters who take to the streets depends on the military presence. But then there also are those who stay at home, but they still protest against the plan."
Habte alleged that violence carried out by security forces has increased and is targeting peaceful civilians including pregnant women and children, especially in the western part of Oromia.
Several rights groups have called on the government to cease violence and release dissidents and political opponents, including Bekele Gerba, deputy chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), arrested in December.
Habte alleged that thousands of OFC members and supporters have been imprisoned and called on the governement to initiate dialogue with opposition people and representatives of the Oromo community to resolve the issue peacefully.
Awol Kassim Allo, fellow in human rights at the London School of Economics, told IBTimes UK the government should also establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the deaths and cease to label protesters as terrorists.
"The Ethiopian government doesn't engage in dialogue," he said. "The government might have been forced to retreat on the master plan but with the number of casualties and the government's massive campaign to slander the protesters, the narratives seems to have shifted to a more profound and directly political demands.
"I know that these calls have been made by several groups and individuals in the past and the government has repeatedly shown its contempt for these calls but these are nevertheless questions that will never go away and one that would one day turn out to be the most politically significant questions."
What sparked the protests?
Members of the Oromo community – Ethiopia's largest ethnic group – have been protesting since November over the so-called "Addis Ababa Master Plan", which, the government said, aims to develop areas surrounding the capital.
However, demonstrators allege the plan will lead to forced evictions of Oromo farmers who will lose their lands and become impoverished as a result.
Demonstrators also argued that forced evictions as well as a perceived marginalisation by the government are already occurring and they threaten the survival of their culture and language.
Abiy Berhane, minister counsellor at the Embassy of Ethiopia in London, confirmed to IBTimes UK that an investigation has been launched to establish the exact death toll of people who "fell victim to the violent confrontation with security forces as well as the extent of property damage".
Regarding the allegations of violence against demonstrators and civilians including pregnant women, he said: "These are just one of the many fabrications that are being circulated by certain opposition groups as part of their propaganda campaign. The unrest cannot be described as a national crisis.
"The disturbances orchestrated by opposition groups have now subsided as the general public understood that the integrated masterplan is still at a draft stage and will only be implemented after extensive public consultation in the matter takes place and gains the support of the people."
Berhane explained that the governement also intends to engage with citizens who raised leigitimate issues of good governance.
"Furthermore, the right to stage peaceful demonstrations is guaranteed by the Ethiopian Constitution and that will always be the case. Peaceful protesters do not need advice," he concluded.