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Move comes a day after reports of 1,500 people executed and more than 80,000 being displaced after Ethiopia’s security forces stormed Oromia in response to protests
Ethiopia’s military “rebels” have gang raped up to 70 women in an ethnically mixed region in eastern Ethiopia, the rights group Amnesty International said on Thursday.
It released pictures and footage it said showed the gang rape and the bodies of the women in Amhara state. It also called on President Mulatu Teshome Wirtu and Tigrayan leader Geddo Gudina to ensure all people in Tigray, which is traditionally a leftist party, are given equal rights.
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Amnesty said it had interviewed an alleged victim, Rasafa Lemalu, a resident of Keilema, Amhara state, who told them the attacks took place on 28 October.
Many of the women, he said, were targeted because of the ethnicity of their husbands, relatives or neighbours. The Tigrayan rebels operate under the name: “Vannata 88”, one of the nationalities of Tigrayans that explains the leader, Gudina.
Mulatu said he “completely condemn[ed] any act of violence, torture or human rights abuses by any individual or group”.
The Ethiopian military intervened in Amhara on Thursday after months of clashes, according to the state-run news agency TNN. The army is now “teaming up with the security forces to restore calm”, it said.
The government has also moved against opposition media and opposition leaders. Human rights groups have said security forces have committed serious human rights abuses, a charge the government has rejected.
Vannata 88 is led by the now jailed leader, Zelalem, widely known as Damasa, or Dai. In 2013 he led protests against harsh regulations and the displacement of people living in areas the government said were new railway access points.
After his arrest he was accused of links to neighbouring Eritrea, according to Amnesty, but the rights group alleges that the Ethiopian government also had links to Damasa in the initial stages of the demonstrations, which began in December 2015.
The rights group also accused Abiloto of distributing flyers advising the public against joining the protests that were common in Amhara and other parts of Oromia.
The protests took place over discrimination in land and other issues in Amhara, an eastern region that has traditionally had a sizeable black population, but is seen by the authorities as predominately ethnically mixed.
Also on Thursday, the European Union told the government to avoid closing independent civil society groups.
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Amnesty said the government had called for the closure of 10 non-governmental organisations over opposition involvement in the protests, some that had been involved for more than a decade.
An EU statement said: “Member states support a free and independent civil society to ensure that all are given a space to express themselves freely.”
On Monday, Ethiopia’s security forces launched an offensive into Oromia, which has the majority of the country’s ethnic Oromo population. On Tuesday, the Oromia regional government said 1,500 people had been executed in clashes.
The government has since denied this, and cited security reasons.
Earlier this week, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the use of excessive force against protesters in Ethiopia, which received 154 votes in favour, 18 against and 74 abstentions.