At least 27 protesters from the Oromo community, Ethiopia's largest ethnic group, have been allegedly killed since the government announced it would scrap a plan to expand the boundaries of the capital Addis Ababa, which triggered mass demonstrations. Protesters in Oromia, one of the nine ethnically-based states of Ethiopia, have continued to demonstrate, arguing they did not trust the statement from the Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organisation (OPDO) released earlier in January.
A demonstrator told IBTimes UK on conditions of anonymity: "21 peaceful demonstrators were killed yesterday [18 January] and six people are said to have been killed today. It's really so tragic."
The number adds to the already more than 140 people allegedly killed by security forces since protests started in November 2015 after the government announced the so-called "Addis Ababa master plan."
The source alleged that the government deployed special forces, known as Liyu Police, into Oromia towns such as Bedeno and Dire Dawa. Liyu police – formed of Somalian soldiers – was created by the Ethiopian government in 2007 to halt the rise of Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) separatist group. The special forces have been accused of committing crimes including extra-judicial executions.
"They [Liyu Police] have killed about 27 peaceful protesters even after the master plan was said to have been halted," the source continued.
Ethiopian government's position
Demonstrators argued that the master plan will lead to forced evictions of Oromo farmers who will lose their lands and become impoverished as a result. They also claimed that forced evictions as well as a perceived marginalisation by the government are already occurring and they threaten the survival of the Oromo's culture and language.
The Ethiopian government, which has been accused of trying to censor information on the protests, has always denied Oromo people are marginalised and claimed the protests are being orchestrated by some dissidents who aim to destabilise the country. Officials have also refuted the number of deaths given by the activists and opened an investigation to assess the death toll as well as the circumstances of the deaths.
IBTimes UK has contacted the Ethiopian embassy for a comment on the recent death allegations, but has not received a response at the time of publishing.
In a previous interview, Abiy Berhane, minister counsellor at the embassy, told IBTimes UK regarding allegations of violence: "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 master plan 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."
European Union condemns "excessive force"
Meanwhile, the European Union has issued a motion for a resolution on the ongoing unrest, condemning the "excessive forces by security forces" in Oromia and other Ethiopian regions.
The document reads: "[The EU] calls on the government to carry out a credible, transparent and impartial investigation into the killings of protesters and other alleged human rights violations in connection with the protest movement, and to fairly prosecute those responsible, regardless of rank or position.
"Welcomes the government's decision to completely halt the Addis Ababa and Oromia special zone master plan, that plans to expand the municipal boundary of Addis Ababa."
The EU also urged the Ethiopian government to invite a UN rapporteur and human rights experts to investigate and to stop impeding the free flow of information.