ETHIOPIA accused arch-rival Eritrea on Thursday of being behind anti-government protests in the Oromia region last year which led to a violent clampdown by the government in Addis Ababa.
The two countries fought a bloody conflict from 1998-2000, but tensions are never far from the surface and were fuelled by protests which erupted last November.
“We have concrete evidence that some of the people… involved and instigating violence in these particular localities… have their origins from Asmara,” the capital of Eritrea, said government spokesman Getachew Reda.
Home to some 27 million people, Oromia encircles Addis Ababa and stretches over large parts of the rest of the country. It has its own language, Oromo, distinct from Amharic, the language of Ethiopia’s government.
Demonstrations erupted last November in Oromia to protest against a government plan to expand the Ethiopian capital.
The so-called Master Plan, which was eventually abandoned in January, fuelled land-grab fears among Oromo farmers, from the country’s biggest ethnic group.
Reda accused Eritrea of working in concert with two Ethiopian movements, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) rebel group and the Ginbot 7 opposition group exiled in the United States and categorised as terrorists by Addis Ababa.
“The Eritrean government is not only working with OLF’s leftovers in Asmara but also with Ginbot 7, and they want to infiltrate all troublemakers into Ethiopia,” Reda said.
He added: “The protests that were being expressed by the people were based on legitimate concerns. But at a certain point, there were political elements involved in hijacking the process.
“What transpired… is an absolutely despicable case of criminal gangs roaming village after village and causing innumerable loss in lives.”
There was a brutal crackdown on the protests, which left over 140 people dead and thousands arrested, according to figures released in January by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In a report published Monday, HRW said the crackdown is still ongoing, asserting that killings and arbitrary arrests were still being reported almost daily.
Eritrea separated from Ethiopia in 1991 after a 20-year independence war. The two countries have remained on a war footing since the open conflict around the turn of the Millennium, notably over their 1,000 km-long (620- mile) common border.