Fighting erupts among Sudanese refugees
FUGNIDO, Ethiopia, December 2 (UNHCR) - Ethnic warfare in western Ethiopia's Fugnido refugee camp has killed 41 refugees in the last week, with six bodies found in the bush outside the camp during the weekend, say aid workers.
Long-simmering tensions at the remote camp near the Sudanese border erupted into large-scale violence last Wednesday, November 27, when gunmen from the minority ethnic Anuak tribe reportedly attacked a group of Dinka refugees, killing 33 persons - including 18 women, one of whom was six months pregnant - and leaving nine wounded.
It was the single largest ethnic attack between refugees in Ethiopia.
Ethiopian troops are based outside the camp, but were unable to reach the scene of Wednesday's attack in time to thwart the violence. The camp is unfenced, and weapons are reportedly easily accessible in the area that is adjacent to parts of neighbouring Sudan affected by that country's decades-long civil war.
Wednesday's massacre followed a shooting incident two days earlier that saw two refugees killed and 11 wounded during a dispute that involved Anuak and Dinka tribesmen arguing over control of the camp's Minority Refugee Committee.
Fugnido camp, established in 1991, currently shelters more than 28,700 Sudanese refugees. It is the largest refugee community in western Ethiopia, where five camps house more than 85,500 Sudanese from various tribes.
Aid workers say that tensions in the camp have risen over recent weeks, reportedly mirroring tribal and political conflicts among the host community in the remote corner of Ethiopia. The refugees' affiliations with various factions of the anti-Khartoum Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) are said to be fuelling the dispute. Some disputes also involve grazing rights.
The UN refugee agency's representative for Ethiopia met with his counterpart from the government's Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) immediately once reports of the massacre reached Addis Ababa. They agreed to set up a joint government/UNHCR body to help ensure that the perpetrators of Wednesday's massacre are brought to justice. They also agreed to initiate reconciliation initiatives involving both the refugees and the host population, as well as non-governmental organisations, the army and police.
UNHCR and Ethiopian government officials are currently also studying the possibility of shifting some tribal communities in Fugnido to other sites in order to ease the ethnic tensions that have been simmering in the region for months.
Tensions among tribal groups in the refugee camp have increased since June, when 27 Nuer tribesmen were killed in one attack. In late October, 13 refugees, including 11 women, were surrounded and stripped of their clothing by a group of ethnic Surma refugees while collecting firewood some 5 km outside Fugnido.
Prior to Wednesday's massacre, Ethiopia's federal government had invited Ethiopian representatives of the four ethnically-tied political parties present in the area to Addis Ababa for peace and reconciliation talks in an effort to quell tensions in the region.