a Bloody Saturday, Ethiopia Chose Genocide
By Doug McGill
December 13, in a single bloody burst of targeted mass murder,
Ethiopia became the world’s latest sovereign to attempt genocide
as a way to solve its problems with a troublesome minority.
The U.S., which
gave Ethiopia $32 million in foreign aid last year, is investigating
the massacre in which eyewitnesses say uniformed Ethiopian soldiers
murdered more than 400 members of the Anuak tribe.
The charge is
made by dozens of Anuak refugees who live in the United States,
and who have spoken by telephone to relatives who survived the
massacre. More than 2,000 Anuak live in the U.S., having fled ethnic
cleansing over the past decade.
attacks were carried out by rival tribes of the Anuak who were
said to be backed by the Ethiopian government. But there has never
been solid proof established for such backing. The massacre in
December, by far the worst single-day killing of Anuak, was the
first time that Ethiopian soldiers were widely witnessed leading
such an attack.
eyewitnesses, the massacre was joined by dozens of members of the
Amara, Oromo, and Tigray tribes of highland Ethiopia. Groups of “highlanders” were
seen chopping and stabbing Anuak with machetes as the soldiers
stood passively by.
Omod, an Anuak
survivor, described what happened in a telephone interview: “About
300 uniformed soldiers marched into the town. They knocked on doors
or pushed them down and pulled out all the men and the boys. Then
they beat them on the street and told them to run. When they ran,
they shot them. They killed my boy. He was a driver and they shot
him in his car. I hid in the bush and I saw them beating people,
shooting people, and burning houses. We collected 403 bodies. They
are in a mass grave.”
corroborates that given by more than two dozen Anuak refugees interviewed
in southern Minnesota, where some 1,200 Anuak refugees live.
The Anuak have
lived for centuries in a verdant western region of Ethiopia, near
the border with Sudan. There are active gold pits and proven oil
reserves on the Anuak’s ancestral land, resources the government
of Ethiopia covets. Over the past decade the Anuak have pressed
Addis Ababa for a share in the projected development of these resources
and have been answered in political subjugation, physical beatings,
and now the government-led pogrom.
It is thus far
a small genocide compared to that of Armenians by Turks; of the
Jews by Germans; of Cambodians by Khmer Rouge; of Tutsis by Hutus
in Rwanda; and of Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbs.
Yet in kind,
the killing of the Anuak minority by sovereign Ethiopia has all
the markings of a state-sponsored attempt to extinguish an entire
Over the past
decade, some 20,000 Anuak have fled into refugee camps in northern
Kenya (primarily the Ifo camp) and southern Sudan.
13, most of the killings of Anuak were by their ancient tribal
enemies, the Nuer, many of whom have resettled on Anuak land as
civil war refugees from Sudan. The United Nations runs three refugee
camps in Gambella for these refugees, most of whom are Nuer.
and missionaries say the Anuak and the Nuer in previous decades
had evolved ritualistic peaceful ways to solve grazing rights disputes
that arose between their tribes. The displacement of more than
100,000 Sudan civil war refugees onto Anuak land in Gambella upset
those traditional ways.
The Anuak for
years have claimed that the Ethiopian government was using the
Anuak-Nuer rivalry as its main tool for Anuak extermination, arming
Nuers and de-arming Anuak and then standing by passively when the
these witnesses and to United Nation’s accounts, the massacre
began when a van containing eight UN and Ethiopian government refugee
camp officials was ambushed by unidentified assailants on a road
connecting the towns of Itang and Gambella. All eight occupants
of the van were killed.
At 1 p.m. that
afternoon, Ethiopian soldiers brought the van and the corpses to
Gambella, attracting crowds of angry onlookers. Here are three
Anuak eyewitness accounts:
crowd of highlanders was angry about the killings [of the people
in the van]. They asked ‘Who killed these people? Who killed
these highlanders?’ All these people followed the van to
the hospital. They are all angry. One soldier fired his gun in
the air, and all the highlanders scattered and ran home. In a
few minutes they came back carrying anything they could get from
their homes – knives, guns, machetes, spears.”
burned down my Mom’s house and my sister’s house.
My Mom said about 400 Anuak were killed and they are still finding
bodies in the bush and in the river. My other sister ran with
her family into the bush, we haven’t heard from her. We
don’t know if she and her kids are alive.”
soldiers knew who they were looking for. They went only to the
houses of the Anuak, and then mainly for the educated ones, the
students, the leaders. I talked to a cousin on my Mom’s
side. He hid under his bed to survive. He saw a soldier kill
a boy in the street. They told the boy to run and then they shot
him. He saw another boy who was shot in the leg but wasn’t
killed, he was just lying in the street, calling for help. No
one could go to him. The soldiers burned down houses and stole
TVs, refrigerators, and cash. All the houses with grass roofs,
A spokesman at
the Ethiopian embassy in Washington said the eyewitness accounts
of uniformed Ethiopian soldiers killing Anuak were “completely
false and unfounded. The defense forces are doing their level best
to look for those people who were involved in this sad event.”
When asked why
2,000 Anuak had fled Ethiopia as refugees, the spokesman said they
had not fled ethnic cleansing. Rather, “they are enjoying
the right of movement to live anywhere they like and to enjoy their
own pursuit of life.”
A spokesman for
the U.S. State Department, which has advised Americans not to travel
to Gambella, said it had confirmed 113 dead and has sent a security
team to the area to investigate the massacre.
In St. Paul,
Minnesota, the Anuak tribe’s leadership in exile meets Saturday
afternoons at an Ethiopian restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota, to
plan relief efforts and a lobbying campaign to catch the attention
of U.S. Senators from Minnesota, Mark Dayton and Norm Coleman.
The Anuak held
such a rally on December 20 on the steps of the state capital in
St. Paul. More than 100 Anuak men and women marched in a circle
in freezing weather with signs asking “Mr. Bush, Terrorism?
Now Genocide?” and “Where is the International Body?”
An Anuak leader
in St. Paul sent a New Year’s e-mail to a dozen Anuak friends
in the U.S., Australia, and Canada. The e-mail had photographs
of smiling Anuak boys and girls, and the message read:
is going to stand up for us, so we must stand up for ourselves.
We all need to come together and tell the whole world, and our
enemies too, that the Anuak people have a right to live in this,
God's world. It is our birth place, just like the rest of the human
Copyright @ 2003 The McGill Report