NAIROBI, Kenya — More than 200 people were killed in Ethiopia, witnesses there said on Sunday, in an attack in the Oromia region that they said targeted mostly ethnic Amhara people.
“I have counted 230 bodies,” Abdul-Seid Tahir, a resident of Gimbi County, told The Associated Press after barely escaping the attack on Saturday. “I am afraid this is the deadliest attack against civilians we have seen in our lifetime. We are burying them in mass graves, and we are still collecting bodies.”
He blamed rebels from the Oromo Liberation Army for the attack, though the group denied responsibility. Mr. Tahir said federal army units had arrived but feared more violence if they leave.
Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country, is experiencing widespread ethnic tensions in several regions, most of them over historical and political grievances. A war in the Tigray region has left thousands dead and displaced about two million people.
Another witness to Saturday’s strife, who gave only his first name, Shambel, over fears for his safety, said the local Amhara community was now desperately seeking to be relocated “before another round of mass killings.” He said ethnic Amhara who settled in the area about 30 years ago in resettlement programs were now being “killed like chickens.”
Both witnesses blamed the Oromo Liberation Army for the attack, as did the regional Oromia government. In a statement it said the rebels attacked “after being unable to resist the operations launched by security forces.”
A rebel spokesman, Odaa Tarbii, countered the accusations by saying the military and local militia were behind the assault. He told The Associated Press they attacked as they retreated from their camp in Gimbi after a rebel offensive.
“They escaped to an area called Tole,” he said, “where they attacked the local population and destroyed their property as retaliation for their perceived support for the O.L.A. Our fighters had not even reached that area when the attacks took place.”
Ethiopia’s government considers the Oromo Liberation Army a terrorist group.
The Amhara people, the second-largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, which has a population of more than 110 million, have been targeted frequently in regions like Oromia.
The government-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission called Sunday for the federal government to find a “lasting solution” to the killing of civilians and protect them from such attacks.