Testimonies by Three
Eye Witnesses of the December 2003 Anywaa (Anuak) Massacre in Gambela
Interviewed and compiled by
Professor of Anthropology
Graduate School of Human Sciences
December 31, 2004
Eisei Kurimoto: firstname.lastname@example.org
The massacre of innocent citizens in Gambela town in western Ethiopia,
13-15 December 2003, was a horrible news to all those concerned. It took
a few days until the UHNCR and BBC reported the incident on their websites.
The Federal Government of Ethiopia also started to report it, and other
international media followed. While the situation in Gambela town remained
unclear, the incident became an international concern as the magnitude
of human suffering became revealed and thousands of Anywaa crossed the
border and fled to Pochalla on the Sudan side. It became also apparent
that an overwhelming majority of victims were Anywaa (Anuak) citizens.
Undoubtedly this is one of the worst incidents in recent history of Ethiopia.
The magnitude of human rights abuses and human suffering is enormous.
However, many things have remained unclear although one year has passed
since the incident. Let alone addressing the root causes of the massacre,
and making efforts for reconciliation and peacemaking, key issues are
still highly controversial such as the number of victims, the accountability
of the massacre, and the Federal Defence Force’s involvement it.
The setting up an inquiry commission by the House of Peoples Representatives
in April 2004 raised a hope that the truth would be revealed.
The Inquiry Commission’s report, however, was quite unsatisfactory.
It was presented to the House of Peoples Representatives in July after
members of the Commission had conducted investigation and interviews in
Gambela town. The major shortcomings, it seems, of the Inquiry Commission’s
report are as follows. 1) It seems that it underestimates the number of
victims. The report puts the total number of victims as 65 dead (61 Anywaa
and 4 highlanders) and 75 injured. It radically differs from other reports.
As early as January 15, 2003, the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (ERCHO)
reported that at least 93 people were killed and provided the list of
There are other reports with lists of victims’ names, whose numbers
are more than 65. If the Commission’s report were to argue that
its claim is right, it should supply the list of victim’s names
and crosscheck with other lists available. But it did not do this. Moreover,
various sources had claimed, before the setting up of the Inquiry Commission,
that the death toll during the December massacre (including those killed
outside of Gambela town) was more than 400. The report completely neglects
these claims. 2) It does not deal with at all the killings took place
outside of Gambela town during and immediately after the massacre in Gambela
town as well as killings which were still continuing in the entire Gambela
region at the time of investigation. According to some sources, by the
end of March 2003 the number of Anywaa killed reached 1,137. Many others
were said to have been injured, raped and detained. The Inquiry Commission
remains silent on these issues. 3) Although it admits that a few soldiers
as individuals participated in the massacre (which was a progress compared
to the previous statements by the federal government that denied it),
it failed to investigate the role played by the Defence Force as organization.
Gambela (Gambella) is a multi-ethnic autonomous region in the Federal
Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. It is one of the regions created under
the banner of ‘ethnic federalism’ adopted under the current
TPLF-EPRDF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front and Ethiopian People’s
Revolutionary Democratic Front) regime that seized power in 1991. Gambela
is a remote and underdeveloped region bordering with South Sudan. Three
major indigenous ethnic groups—the Anywaa, the Nuer and the Majangir—are
politically entitled to represent the region. Since 1991 Anywaa elites
have been in power at the regional level. Other residents in Gambela region
include South Sudanese refugees now living in three camps of Pinyudo (Fugnido),
Bonga and Dima, settlers who were brought by the Derg (the socialist regime,
1974-1991) from the Ethiopian highlands, and traders, civil servants and
others from the highlands.
Since the Derg era, Gambela has been the hot spot of armed conflicts
with a variety of actors. Up to 1991 there were three major forms: the
Derg versus Anywaa peasants/Anywaa armed dissident group (GLPM); South
Sudanese refugees/SPLA versus Anywaa peasants and militia; SPLA versus
Nuer peasants-and-pastoralists. After 1991 armed conflicts became more
violent involving more actors: GPLM versus EPRDF; EPRDF versus Anywaa
civilians; Anywaa peasants versus settlers; Anywaa peasants versus Nuer
peasants-and-pastoralists/armed Nuer invading from Sudan; Anywaa students
versus Nuer students; Anywaa peasants versus Nuer refugees; Anywaa peasants
versus Majangir peasants, and so on.
The December 2003 massacre is, however, not like previous conflicts in
many senses. What is remarkable about the violent conflict of December
13-15 is that it was not a fight between two groups but a massacre, one
sided exercise of violence, by one group against the other, Anywaa civilians,
and that ‘highlanders’ were the attackers. It should be noted
that in the Gambela context the people categorized as ‘highlanders’
are by no means homogeneous. Basically they consist of four groups: traders
and businessmen, settlers, civil servants, and soldiers. Again each group
is not homogeneous and has a multi-ethnic composition, and after all the
ethnic groups that comprise ‘highlanders’ are the Oromo, Amhara,
Tigrayan, Kambata, Gurage and others.
‘Highlanders’ in the local context refer to peoples of the
Ethiopian highlands of ‘red’ skin. The indigenous peoples
of Gambela including the Anywaa recognize themselves as ‘black’
peoples. In the history of Ethiopia, this division of the nation based
on skin colours was politicized and racialized. For centuries the ‘black’
peoples living at the peripheries of the empire were located at the bottom
of social strata.
In recent years the Derg and the EPRDF regimes have been trying to redress
the situation. Nevertheless, the basic power structure defining the relation
between the centre and periphery and the images of the Other shared both
by the ‘red’ and ‘black’ peoples still continue
to this day. This is one of the backgrounds of the massacre of Anywaa
by ‘highlanders’. 
The position of ‘highlanders’ in Gambela, in particular in
the national political context since 1991, is twisted; they occupy an
ambiguous position in political, economic and military terms. Politically,
at least in principle, as they are not indigenous to the region, they
do not have political representation. In reality, however, those TPLF-EPRDF
cadres exercise power as ‘advisors’ in the regional government.
Many others work as civil servants. Economically highlanders’ traders
and businessmen almost monopolize the regional market. In military terms
the Defence Force they have supreme power as soldiers of the GPLM, local
militia and then regional policemen became disarmed. Under these circumstances,
a series of murder cases of highlanders started in 2002 frustrated and
angered them. They assumed that they had been committed by armed individuals
or groups of Anywaa militants or ethnic-extremists, and the regional government
dominated by Anywaa elites failed to enforce law and order. This is another
background to the December 2003 massacre.
The Federal Government of Ethiopia first reported the incident as ‘inter-ethnic/tribal
fight’ between the Anywaa and the Nuer, the two major indigenous
peoples in Gambela, over natural resources, namely land. Then it put the
blame on external anti-government groups (‘terrorists’) such
as the Omoro Liberation Front (OLF) and the Al Itihad Al Ismamiiya. Then
in April 2004 the Inquiry Commission was set up by the House of Peoples
Representatives and submitted its report in July. Although the situation
in Gambela town seems to be calm, we continue to receive news that human
rights abuses by the Federal Defence Force and retaliation by Anywaa armed
groups are continuing in different parts of the region.
As an anthropologist who conducted research in Gambela region intermittently
between 1988 and 1999, with foci on the social, economic and cultural
transformation of the Anywaa, inter-ethnic relations, and Anywaa’s
relations with the state, settlers and refugees, I have been seriously
following the news and information since December 2003 with a deep concern
I first received the news on 15 December 2003 when I was staying in Lokichokkio,
a remote area in north western Kenya, through e-mails and telephone calls.
This is another significant aspect of the recent conflict in Gambela.
Thanks to the development of communication technology, news and reports
can reach all corners of the world very fast.
I had chances to interview three Anywaa men who were in Gambela town
when the massacre took place. The first interviews with Omot and Ojulu
were done in Addis Ababa on 21 February 2004. The second one with Obang
was conducted in Nairobi on 11 March. I know the three men personally
for years, and appreciate their courage to narrate me their experience.
It was a painful exercise for me because I could clearly sense their feelings
of sorrow, anger and despair. Ojulu was detained on 13 December by the
Defence Force at the army barrack in town, but fortunately released later
on that day. When I met Obang in Nairobi, where he sought refuge, he still
looked very much depressed. He had almost twenty wounds all over his body,
from head down to feet, by bullets and machetes at the hands of soldiers
and neighbours. Seeing them, I could not believe that he had survived.
Although they are only three, I have decided to make these narratives
with a short introduction available to the public for two reasons. Firstly,
they are in detail and in depth, and provide us valuable information on
what really happened and insight to understand the backgrounds of the
massacre. Some people may think that they are ‘biased’, as
all of them assume that the massacre was planned by the Defence Force,
or by certain elements among them. I believe that this ‘bias’
itself is important because it is shared by an overwhelming majority of
the Anywaa, and because it should be taken into consideration when reconciliation,
peacemaking and peace-building will be done. Secondly I wish that these
testimonies will be useful for those who try to bring justice and be engaged
in the reconciliation, peacemaking and peace-building projects. It is
highly remarkable that the testimonies testify that in the midst of anarchy
there were some officers of the Defence Force (who are highlanders) and
local Anywaa policemen who tried to save the lives of Anywaa, and that
not all highlanders are considered as enemies by the Anywaa. Here I find
seeds of hope for future.
I sincerely wish that the year of 2005 will be the year when truth will
be revealed, justice will be done and peace will prevail in Gambela.
I. Testimony of Omot
Interviewed on 21 February 2004, Addis Ababa. Omot is a man in his late
The Massacre in Gambela Town, 13-15 December 2003
Where did the first killing of eight highlanders happen?
It was between Itang and Jikaw.
By what were they travelling?
They were travelling by two or three cars. They were the staff of Administration
of Returnees and Refugees Affairs (ARRA). They were killed on the road
around 11:00 am and their bodies were brought to Gambela town at 12:00
am. As the bodies arrived in the town they took them to the Regional Administration
Council Office. All highlanders went to the Council Office.
What did happen after they took the bodies to the Regional Administration
It seemed that there had been a secret meeting held without the knowledge
of Anywaa. When highlanders met there, they decided to rampage the town
and to kill Anywaa. After they saw the bodies off to go to Addis Ababa,
they started running to Anywaa residents to attack them. I think that
among the mob and the soldiers there was a group of people who were against
the government and wanted to use this opportunity to put the government
in a problem. There was also a group of people who have anti-Anywaa sentiment.
Instead of conducting an investigation to get the culprits, they decided
to come and attack innocent civilians and kill them. They mobilized all
highlanders. They made all highlanders and thieves to equip themselves
with knives, machetes, clubs, guns and stones to attack Anywaa. Civilian
highlanders marched in front and soldiers followed them behind. Then whomever
they found on the street or at their homes were beaten to death, stabbed
by knife, or cut into pieces by machete. If a victim ran away, he was
shot at the back by soldiers. Anywaa didn't react because they thought
that soldiers would help them or save their lives. To the contrary, soldiers
became killers. Then all thieves got a chance to loot, kill, and burn
down the houses of Anywaa.
It was soldiers that committed killing together with civilians. They
told the civilians to hit the victim at the legs with machete. When the
victim fell down, the soldiers shot him dead. I assume that soldiers and
civilian highlanders held a secret meeting before the killing to kill
Anywaa. I think that there were anti-government and anti-Anywaa elements
within the army who orchestrated this type of killing.
Did the killing continue on Sunday?
Yes. It started on Saturday and continued up to Sunday night. On Monday
they stopped killing people. The soldiers stopped because they started
to feel the fear, fear of killing innocent civilians who have not committed
How many Anywaa do you think were killed in these two days?
They were many. Many people were killed. The figure of 420 is correct.
I have seen more than 100 dead bodies in my area in Gambela town. There
were also many others killed outside of town, in Bonga, Opoamoro, Pinykew,
Illiay, and on the road to Makot (Gambela airport).
That was a well planned and politically motivated attack. It was kept
secret from Anywaa. If the reason for the killing Anywaa was the death
of ARRA staff who were killed on the road, [it does not make sense because]
the killers were not identified. Nobody knows exactly who ambushed the
car and killed people.
Was there any highlander or Nuer died?
Nobody at all. No highlander, Nuer or nobody from others ethnic group
was killed. They killed only Anywaa. But there was a rumour that three
Nuer were found dead. [They might have been mistaken as Anywaa].
Did they kill women?
Yes. They killed one woman.
Did they kill children?
Yes. They killed many boys, who were students at the age of about eighteen
years old. [But no small boys were killed].
I think there was a secret plan for this killing. I don’t understand
it really, whether people who opposed this government did it or the government
did it intentionally to displace Anywaa from our motherland.
Where exactly did the killing start in Gambela town?
It took place throughout the whole town. The entire town was in turmoil.
It took place across the river, on both banks of Jabjabe river, in
government offices and everywhere. I heard that there were 38 or 40-50
people had been put in prison because of allegation as perpetrators of
So, now there are some highlanders in the prison [those suspects who
were responsible for the killing]?
Yes. There are some in the prison of Gambela.
I understand that the reason of this entire killing is hatred. They hate
Anywaa. As you know, Anywaa are friendly to anybody. We don’t want
to quarrel or fight with anyone. Anywaa do not want somebody’s property
or land. We love to talk and play with anybody. We are peace lovers. We
live under the rules of kings and chiefs. Those highlanders do not
understand the system of Anywaa. Anywaa do rule by themselves. Anywaa
have their kingdom with ministers and officials in charge, appointed by
Recent Incident near Abwobo
What do you know about the recent killing that took place in Tier
Koodhi [near Abwobo]? How many highlanders were killed?
The rumour I heard is that four highlanders were killed in that ambush.
In the Isuzu car there were highlanders and Nuer passengers. According
to the information they told the police that the killers were not Anywaa.
They were highlanders armed with guns.
The Killing in Dima, January 2004
Have you heard about the recent fighting in Dima?
Yes. I heard a rumour that there was a fighting between gold miners [who
are Anywaa] and government soldiers. I have not got accurate information,
but it was reported in the newspaper here. What I heard is that soldiers
went to the gold mining field from Dima to disarm Anywaa. The Anuak leader
who was administrating the district refused the demand of the army. So
they shot and killed him. Then people picked up their guns and fighting
erupted. Many people were killed in the gold mining field (Dambala).
Did soldiers kill people in Dima town?
Yes. They discriminately killed many civilians in the centre of Dimma
town. It is very sad news indeed.
II. Testimony of Ojulu
Interviewed on 21 February 2004, Addis Ababa. Ojulu is a civil servant
and in his late thirties.
The Massacre in Gambela Town, 13-15 December 2003
How did this killing happen and when did it start?
The first killing of eight workers on the road happened on Friday (12
Dec.) at 11:00 am. Then the mass killing started at 1:00 pm on Saturday
(13 Dec.). They killed people on Saturday day and night, throughout Sunday,
until Monday evening. They stopped killing people on Monday when federal
police forces, deployed by the federal government, arrived in town.
Were these eight people killed between Itang and Jikaw?
No. It is between Itang and Ochom, about 30 km from Gambela town, just
Are there Anywaa in Itang?
No, there is no many Anywaa in Itang since the closure of government
institutions because of the change in the administrative structure. People
were moved to Dimma, Abobo and others districts. It is only Army and few
people left there.
Are there Nuers in Itnag?
Yes, there are some of them with the soldiers. You see, the worst thing
is that the government has cheated the world by saying that it was the
Anywaa and the Nuer fighting each other. They used the 2002 Anywaa and
Nuer conflict as pretext because the world knows that there were conflicts
between them in the past. It was some time later that people started asking
why it is only people of one group that died while there is no one dead
from the other side. Therefore, people started understanding what the
government was trying to hide.
Regarding the massacre in Gambela town, who were the killers? Were
they both soldiers and civilians?
Soldiers made civilians lead the way to Anywaa homes and followed them
from behind. Civilians called people out from their houses, stoned them
and hit them with clubs or machetes. If the victim was strong, then soldiers
shot him to kill.
Who were those civilians?
They were all highlanders from different ethnic groups: Oromo, Amhara,
Tigrayan and settlers.
Who were those soldiers?
The majority of them were Oromo.
You know, what happened was that Anywaa did not have information about
the plan of killing. All highlanders gathered themselves for scouting
the corpuses to Addis Ababa. When the bodies arrived in town, the crowd
took them to the Regional Administration Office. On their way to the Office
they got two Anywaa on the bridge and killed them there right away. After
they had had the bodies taken to the highlands, they returned to the town
in three groups. One group took the Jabjabe river road, one took the main
road and the other took to the Jinina road. Then they started attacking
people. People ran into their houses without knowing why they were attacked.
The crowd called out the frighten people. When they came out from their
huts, they were stoned and stabbed by the crowd, or shot dead by soldiers.
Did these mobs kill only men?
Yes. They targeted only men. They did not kill women and children except
one child who was slaughtered.
Prior to the killing they had a secret meeting to kill Anywaa. Some highlanders
who had been born in Gambela and had strong relationship with Anywaa were
slaughtered before the attack because they believed that these people
would tell Anywaa the secret plan. A man by name Abachu Akillu was killed
because he had a close relationship with Anywaa. I think that this plot
was not known by Tigrayan soldiers. I believe that Oromo soldiers in the
army planned the killing. If there was one Tigrayan officer among Oromo
soldiers, you would not have been killed and the officer would have spared
In those days people did not move because there was no guarantee for
life. You could be killed, tortured or threw into jail without question.
This made many people to run away to take refuge.
Are there many Oromo in the army in Gambela?
Yes, they are many. Oromo have their own agenda in Gambela. They want
to revenge the OLF members captured by the government in Gambela last
year. They are the ones who killed people in Gambela this time.
Did many people leave the country?
Yes, many people fled away.
If I can take you back to the starting point of the killing of eight
workers on the road, how did it happen?
We heard around 9:00 am in the morning that people were killed on the
road. I understood that it might create a problem in the town later. We
decided to stay at home rather than going out. But after some time we
tried to go to near by Ambullu Hotel, the one near the Ethiopians Airline’s
office. While we were there, a big group of highlanders came and went
to the police station for a meeting. Then we heard a loud applause from
inside the police station. When they came out from there, they attacked
some boys who were repairing bicycles near the army barrack, pervious
security office, with stones and they returned to the police station.
Then they fired one bullet into the air. This happened before the arrival
of corpuses. Therefore, we knew that these people would create a problem.
At 1:00 pm, the corpuses arrived. By that time, they were in front of
Abulla’s Cafeteria waiting for the bodies. They cried a lot and
took the bodies to the Regional administration office across the river.
That is where they met the first victims, two Anywaa, and killed them
near the bridge.
Did they kill them near the bridge?
Yes, across the bridge on the other side of the Baro river. Then they
entered the Regional Council compound with bodies. After they sent the
bodies to the highlands they returned from the Council in three groups.
The fourth group was in the army barrack. The first group came to my place
and attacked us. We ran into the house. They demolished the fence and
I heard the mob leader was asking for the matchbox to burn the house.
They burned the house and went away without killing anybody because there
was no soldier among them. Then we came out of the house and put the fire
off. Then the second group came and started throwing stones, shooting
everywhere. We ran into the house again. I made a telephone call to the
police station asking for help, but the answer was negative. Then one
army captain who is residing near by came running and dispersed the mob.
He called us to come out. All of us, women, children and men, came out.
He asked me if I had a gun in the house. I told him that I did not have
anything. He went into the house to search inside. Since it was dark,
he asked me to give him a flashlight. I did so. Then he searched inside
the house and did not find anything. He handed back the flashlight to
me and told us that women and children would remain there, but he would
take men to the police station. I took some young boys with me and he
led us to the police station. On our way, we met a group of soldiers on
the bridge (of Jabjabe river) near Tourist Hotel and asked the captain
where he was taking them? The captain answered that he was taking us to
the police station. They said, “No. We should take them to the army
barrack.” They told us to sit down and kept arguing with the captain.
Then one black and skinny soldier grabbed me by the collar and said, “This
is the one we have to kill.” The captain told him to stop. Again
he grabbed other two boys. Then they took us to the barrack.
Who is this captain?
He is a highlander who is working as military nurse.
As we arrived at the barrack, there were not many people. I found Atuk
Okoth and two women there. They put us separate from them. After some
time they brought Kwot Wagade and Kupudan. They were seriously beaten.
They said that they had found a gun in the house of Kwot. I do not know
whether it is true or not. The commander told others, “If you found
a gun in his house, why didn’t you kill him?” Then they brought
Ojulu Ochalla and an old man, Cham Bang. Then many more were brought in
and they were seriously beaten. Some were wounded by gunshots, knives,
stones, and machetes.
After some time a truck came to take us. They talked among themselves
and the truck left without taking us. We did not know what happened. I
think they changed their mind. Sometime later one commander came and they
talked to each other. Then he told us that after one hour you would hear
the result of this operation. The commander who came to us returned to
the town and a serious of killing took place everywhere in the town. I
think they gave an order to kill as many people as possible. At about
5:00 pm we asked them to treat the wounded people, but the commander told
us, “No need of treatment. Let them die with their wounds”.
Later they changed their mind again and brought in a truck. We put the
wounded people onto the truck and they took them to the hospital. At 12:00
pm they told us to go home. We left the barrack. But it was meaningless
because there was no peace at home.
Did they release many people at night?
Yes, they released many people because they had brought people from all
areas in Gambela town. They took people in lines from Omininga, Owolinga,
and Baat Thur areas.
Did they kill people on Monday?
Yes, they killed people on Monday. For example, in Omininga area they
called people to come out and shot them. They killed four people in this
Who is the commander of Gambela?
The commander is called Tsegaye. He is a deputy colonel and a Tigrayan.
He is the one who said, “You Anywaa, you are responsible for the
killing of the people. You have been killing many highlanders. Why are
you complaining now because a few of your people were killed today?”
Look, is this a government? What a government should do is to investigate
the crime whenever a culprit does something wrong. He told us that he
had not expected that the killing would last for many days. “I was
expecting that it would last for only half an hour.” It is ridiculous.
How could you count the minutes of the killing of human beings? This means
that he knew something about the killing. It is something that they had
planned in advance.
Is Tsegaye the commander for Gambela region as whole?
Yes, he is the commander for Gambela region. There is a senior commander
for the Western Zone who is based in Jimma. He is a colonel and came to
Gambela after the killing.
Were people staying in the compounds of Mekane Yesus Church and Catholic
Church during the massacre in Gambela?
Yes. When we returned from the bush we took refuge in Mekane Yesus Church.
Others people took refuge in Catholic Church. We stayed in Mekane Yesus
for one week. Later, the soldiers alleged that the church had guns inside.
They came and searched all inside the church, but did not find anything
and went back to their barrack shamefully.
On Tuesday, they went to the Catholic Church and forced the people to
evacuate. On Thursday, they came to Mekane Yesus Church and did the same.
Look, all houses were burned down in all residential areas like Omininga,
Addis Sufer, and Tier-kidi and also there was no guarantee of your life.
How could the government soldiers force people to evacuate the Churches?
Where were they going to stay? Could they go and stay outside? What if
the mob of highlanders and soldiers came again and killed the people?
They did this because of the fear that the crowd gathered in the Churches
might attack them.
Were there any Nuer killed in the incident?
No single Nuer was killed.
Is this type of killing similar to that happened in Pinyudo and Itang
during the Derg era?
No, it not similar. Under the Derg regime, the government did not involve
itself in the killing. It did it indirectly.
The problem between Nuer and Anywaa used not to be critical like it is
today. The fight between them used to be at the inter-village level. There
was no such a confrontation that the entire peoples are at war. This time,
the government agitates it in order to make tribes not to understand each
Killing Happened Outside of Gambela Town
Did government's soldiers hold some people outside and take them back
Yes, they did. But the majority was killed. If they found you in the
bush, they would kill you there. What they did before the killing was
that they sent many soldiers to block the roads in all districts. Many
travellers were killed on the roads because they did not know what had
taken place in Gambela.
People who were travelling from villages to Gambela were captured on
the road by the soldiers and executed. Thirty people were killed in this
way near the Makot airport. Only six bodies were found on the roadside.
Even they attempted to extend the killing up to Ilea village.
Did they kill some people in Ilea village too?
No. But they attempted to attack the people. However, the farmers were
strong and they stood up and told them, “We will fight you if you
try to kill anybody here.” Then they got afraid and left without
Did soldiers kill people in Pinykew village?
No. They did not kill in the village, but killed people on the road.
Since people were moving around from village to village, they killed those
found on the road. They attacked people in Pinyudo town, killed nine people,
burned down the entire town, and displaced the people.
When did this take place? Was it on Saturday?
No. It took place a week after they killed people in Gambela town. They
killed people and burned the houses in Pinyudo, and people ran away.
Recent Incidents in February 2004
I heard that Dr. Gebrehab Barnabas, Minister of Regional Affairs, went
to Gambela yesterday. Even though he is there, he cannot solve any problem.
In addition, I heard a rumour that an Isuzu car that was travelling from
Gambela was ambushed.
Where did it happen? And how many were killed?
It happened between Gambela and Bonga. I heard that nobody was killed.
Were there people killed in Gambela yesterday?
Yes, Kambata (settlers) killed two people (Anywaa).
Were there people killed in villages?
Yes, soldiers went to Village 13, former Ithuriemo village, in Abobo
district and they fought with farmers and killed some people. Lastly,
they collected the highlanders and brought them to Gambela for safety.
Were some people killed in Tier-kodhi last week?
No, not in Tier kodhi. I think that it is a truck that was attack. The
truck was travelling from Gambela to Pinyudo. It was an Isuzu truck. According
to the Information I got this truck has one traveller who has good amount
of money with him. Some of the soldiers have the information of this money.
So, this group of soldiers ambushed the truck and killed four soldiers
and two Nuer in the truck.
To whom did this truck belong? Is it a military truck or a civilian?
It was a civilian’s truck
Did this incident happen last week?
Yes, it was last week, on Wednesday (16 February).
About the looting of the cattle, when did it take place?
The cattle were taken on Thursday.
The Incident of Dima
Did you hear anything about the fighting that took place in Dima?
I had a telephone call last time (from Dima). There was a group of people
who survived the Gambela massacre and ran way. This group of people wanted
to revenge for their relatives’ blood shed by soldiers. They attacked
highlanders in the gold fields in Dambala. Then the government army came
and asked the wereda administrator to go to the gold fields to make peace
with gold miners. When they arrived at the gold fields, they found the
gold miners with guns. Then they decided to disarm the miners. However,
the administrator told them that we could not do this. “We will
be creating another problem.
We do not come here for this purpose. We come for peace negotiation.”
Then one soldier shot the administrator because of his idea. After this
the fighting erupted between Anywaa miners and soldiers because both parties
have guns. When the army was defeated in the fields, they came to villages
and killed many Anywaa civilians. They killed 20 people in Korkore village,
90 in Gadhu village and 21 in Dima town and threw their bodies into the
river. The death toll among the Anywaa is 131.
You see, last time the government reported that Anywaa killed 172 people
of Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State, ignoring
the 131 Anywaa killed, reducing the number of dead Anywaa to 21only.
I heard that Anywaa killed people of Southern Nations, Nationalities
and Peoples Regional State. Is it true?
The government reported purposely to instigate another war between people
of Southern Regional State and Anywaa. As you know, there are many nationalities,
Oromo, Amhara, Tigrayan, and so on in Dima living together with Anywaa.
I can say that everybody is there. The government made this statement
to defend itself not to be blamed. What kind of government is this, instigating
hatred among people?
Did Anywaa and people of Southern Regional State fight before?
Never. There was not any problem between them. This wrong information
is given by the ARRA to the UNHCR. They are the ones who reported that
172 people of the Southern Regional State were killed by Anywaa and that
only 21 Anywaa were killed by the mobs instead of 131. I hope that truth
will prevail tomorrow. The survivors are still in the UNHCR compound.
They will tell the truth. Highlanders are still hunting Anywaa with spears,
clubs, and machetes in the compound of UNHCR in Dima town.
Don't UNHCR staff in Gambela and Dima get the accurate information?
The reports they give on the Internet are not correct.
Yes. Their report is not correct because UNHCR’s informants are
highlanders of ARRA, which is a government agency. That is why they said
that the conflict was between Nuer and Anywaa. The UNHCR officer publicized
the report without any examination.
Is the UNHCR officer not a foreigner?
Yes, he is a foreigner, but he is not in the field. The highlanders in
the field provide information to him. He cannot do anything about the
reports he gets from the field, which prepared by these highlanders.
In 2002, I heard that there was a series of fighting between Anywaa
and Majangir. How did this happen? As I know them, the Majangir are a
peaceful people who do not like wars.
Yes, it is true. The Majangir did not have any conflict with the Anywaa.
We used to live together in peace. It was a plot of the government and
Nuer. They told Majangir, “You have to fight Anywaa to get more
posts in the regional government.” They said that, although Majangir
already had enough seats in the Regional Council as well as in the federal
What made this get serious was that a Majangir man killed his fellow
Majangir because of a girl when they were drinking beer. He ran away.
When police went to investigate the case, they held some people for questioning.
The Majangir who committed the murder came back and told others, in order
to cover up his crime, he went that the Anywaa took away those Majangir
and killed them. Then the Majangirs formed squads, went into Anywaa villages,
and killed many Anywaa. Then Anywaa retaliated and killed many Majangir
too. Later when they understood that this is something they were forced
to do without their interest and not good for them, they have come together
and reconciled their differences. Now they are living in peace. There
are many Anywaa working for Majangir in government offices in Godare.
The government jailed the administrator Odungduk who investigated this
issue and brought peace between the Majangir and the Anywaa. He is in
Conflict in Gok, 2003
Did the government army kill some people in Gok last year?
Yes, they did kill.
How did it happen?
It happened because of one boy who had been in jail for certain crime
that I do not know. When he was released, he started to go to school in
Gok. The root cause of the problem is an incident took place in Dima between
a certain group of Anywaa boys and the army. Those boys, after they had
clashed with army in Dima, came to Gok.
So, the army suspected that the student was one of the boys who clashed
with them in Dima and wanted to arrest him. Soldiers went to Gok. The
student said, “I am not the suspect. I have been here for the whole
year doing my study and you know it. If I should have committed a crime,
why you haven’t put me in jail up to this time. You would have jailed
me a long time ago.
Why do you want me now? I did not make any crime. I won’t go to
the jail for nothing.” After this talk, soldiers returned to their
barrack in Pinyudo peacefully. Some time later, they went to Gok for the
second time and called peasants for a meeting to make a decision to jail
the boy. The boy refused. Then they shot him. Then some peasants picked
up their guns and the fighting broke out between the soldiers and the
boy’s father and his relatives. The group of boys who had clashed
with the army before in Dima joined peasants. When the army was defeated
in this fighting, they went to the village and beat any peasant they found
seriously including students in the school without any reason. When they
returned to Pinyudo from Gok, they even killed one student.
This is the habit of the army. When they fail in the field, they come
home and kill innocent citizens. The Gok case would have been very simple,
which had been solved by the peasants without involvement of the army.
All these problems were created by the government. They should have consulted
elders, but they did things in their own way. I do not think you will
get information from a person by torturing, jailing and killing him. This
is what the government is doing in Gambela. The government is the problem
maker in Gambela.
Conflict in Pinyudo-Thatha, 2002
One day in 2002 a highlander was killed on the road between Pinyudo and
Thatha village. The killer was a Dinka refugee. The government officials
including President Okello Akwai and Okichi Olom went to Thatha to investigate
the case and to make peace in the area. While they were in a meeting one
army officer got up and shot one Anywaa in front of the President Okello.
This government is a racist that stands only for its own ethnic group.
Look at this. How is it possible for a government to punish anybody for
the crime committed by another person? Whenever a crime is committed in
Gambela, without any investigation, Anywaa will be held responsible for
it. Anywaa are jailed and killed for nothing. This will make people to
stand up against the government. They will pick up guns, and go to the
bush to fight the government in future.
Did the fighting in the Pinyudo refugee camp take place before
the Thatha incident?
No. It happened after the Thatha incident.
Reaction by the Federal Government
I heard that a week ago Omot Obang and Okello Oman had met with the Minister
of defence, Ato Dulla, and Major-General Samora on this issue. They said,
“You come late. You should have reported to us earlier. Now we are
going to give an order to put those who perpetrated the killing, people
like Commander Tsegaye and his officers, into jail.” They gave such
kind of statement. But we don’t know whether they will do it or
not. As you know, in the army there is a chain of command. These people
[at the top], they might have heard the killing. But if they haven’t
got a report they may not do anything. Such kind of thing will be a block
on the way not to reach them.
Was it true that soldiers were mobilised to build houses for the people?
Yes, they did build houses for the sake of propaganda that the soldiers
did build the houses for the victims. They forced the government employees
to go with them and cut wood and grass and started building houses. But
in the end they handed over the job to settlers to do it as “food
for work.” They did not finish the work either.
Was there anybody who went to visit Gambela from the Federal Government?
Dr. Gebrehab Barnabas, Minister for Regional Affairs in the Federal Government,
and Ato Allma, his deputy, went to visit people in Gambela.
Are they still in Gambela now?
No, they returned to Addis Ababa. I heard that they have gone back to
Gambela on Thursday (19 February). His going there has nothing to do with
people. He did not comfort people for what had happened to them. Instead
he blamed the people for the killing. What he said to people last time
was not good. He said, “You are responsible for your own death.
Why are you complaining for the death of a small number of people?
It is you who have been killing people here.” Is this what a responsible
man in the Federal Government is supposed to say? You know, there are
many crimes committed in entire Ethiopia, killing people on roads and
in train. Did they ever go to civilians and killed them for the crime
of another person? Here in Western Ethiopia some Oromo kill people from
time to time. But soldiers do not attack Oromo civilians. Why are they
killing all people in Gambela for the death of eight people by unidentified
gunmen? Nowhere in the world innocent people will be judged for the crime
of other persons. It is the first of its kind to happen in this country.
In reality in Ethiopia the Anywaa are not the only one people who have
bandits among them. All people in Ethiopia have bandits. In addition,
nobody knows who were the attackers of the car. No one has identified
Recently some people were killed in Shabele town. It was reported that
the killers were Oromo themselves. Look, if they want to expose the truth,
they can do it.
I understand that the massacre in Gambela was planned by soldiers. They
needed a reason to start killing Anywaa. Two highlanders’ traders,
one living in Gambela town and the other in Pinyudo, contributed money
to be paid the soldiers who would carry out the job in case they should
be identified and expelled from the army. This plan did not work on time.
When they heard that there were some delegates coming from Addis Ababa
going to Jikaw, they thought that the chance had come. Therefore, on Friday
night soldiers were deployed on the road to ambush the car. When the UN
and ARRA staff left in the morning, the soldiers were already waiting
for them in the bush. When the news of the attack reached the town, the
police went to the scene and tried to go after the attackers. But they
were prevented to do so because the army knew that the attackers would
be found and identified. However, since their plan was to find a reason
to kill the Anywaa, they just returned to the town without pursuing the
killers and started killing Anywaa.
The solution for Gambela issue needs a neutral body to come and investigate
the problem. The government cannot give any solution to this problem.
The government is defending itself from the crimes it committed. If the
investigation is going to be done by the government, it will aggravate
the situation. The government does not want to identify the problem and
solve it. I think that it will not be possible to live with such people
(the federal government) any longer
The reason why President Okello left the country is anger against the
attitude of this government. Look, when Ato Allma of Prime Minister’s
Office came to Gambela, instead of comforting the people and making peace,
he started blaming the leaders for the killing.
He said, “We have to evaluate the performance of leadership.”
President Okello told him, “This is not a time for such kind of
action. You have to look for the whereabouts of the survivors and make
peace prevail first. We cannot do any evaluation now while people are
still dying.” He did not listen to Okello. Then he got angry and
left the country. Maybe the motive behind Allma’s statement was
to put Okello in jail. Even the number of the deceased people that was
given by the government is not correct. It is more than that. The counting
was finalized so early before we did not finish searching for missing
ones. What I can say is that we need a neutral body to come for investigation.
You see, always when this Allma and Dr. Gebrehab Barnabas come to Gambela,
after they leave some people are either killed or imprisoned. Moreover,
they are always defending themselves to be free from any responsibility.
Look now. They have started blaming others such as Nuer and SPLA. Also
they started to bring the people of Southern Regional State into this
issue. What they do is to cover up their crime. Therefore, their going
to Gambela is meaningless unless they are bringing a solution to the Gambela
Now Gambela has no leader. Who can talk to the Federal Government
People do talk. What people told them last time was that they had to
put the perpetrators of the killing in jail first and bring peace in town.
Then people who ran to the bush and went exile would return home. Otherwise,
people would choose to stay in the bush or take refuge in other countries
rather than coming out and being killed. You know, nobody wants to go
exile and stay as a refugee if there is no problem at his home. Now people
are in a big problem and they are either in the bush or in exile. They
want to come home and live peacefully. But it will not happen without
peace. Even more people will go out if there is no good action taken by
the government to bring peace. For example, we should have left as they
were looking after us. The reason we have not gone is for the sake of
our children. What will happen to them if we go?
How many Anywaa are in the prison of Federal Government in Addis Ababa?
There are 41 Anywaa, including people like David Oduru, Philip Opiew,
Pinykew, Odol, Okok and so on.
Are there some prisoners in the Gambela prison?
Yes, there are many there. Many young people are in jail.
Our fear is that many people will be killed later when they come to exploit
the oil. Anywaa will resist them. Last time they planned to go to Jor
district (where the oil resources are) to disarm the peasants by force.
If it had happened, they would have killed many Anywaa. As their behaviour
has showed us, whenever they loose in the field, they will come home and
kill civilians. Now they have deployed 30,000 troops in Gambela.
III. Testimony of Obang
Interviewed on 11 March 2004, Nairobi. Obang was working for the regional
government and is in his mid-thirties.
The Massacre in Gambela Town, 13-15 December 2003
The killing started on Saturday, 13 December 2003, exactly at 12:30.
The attack had happened earlier on that morning on the Itang road. It
was reported that about seven people [on the car] had been killed. The
real assailants were not identified, but the [Federal] government assumed
that they might be Anywaa. The government should have waited for the evidence
to find out who they exactly were, but it did not. The incident happened
between Uchwom and Itang. In fact the place is not inhabited by Anywaa.
Uchwom is a screening center for Sudanese refugees, mainly Nuer. At the
moment the area is lived by Nuer who refused to go to the refugee camp
and remained there, although Anywaa wanted them to go. It caused a problem
within the interim government of Gambela last time when Anywaa claimed
that Uchwom is their land, belongs to Pinykew. The government refused.
So, the assailants might have been Nuer. Or, they might be some other
intruders from outside. But I doubt that they might be Anywaa.
At what time were the bodies brought back to Gambela town?
On that morning I was in a car doing some work for the Regional Government.
The bodies were expected to arrive since 10am, and it arrived at around
11. They were brought by an army vehicle. I saw with my own eyes that
there were seven soldiers in uniform in the lorry. What happened was that
they were moving from the Mobil petrol station to Gambela Hospital. But
before going to the Hospital they took the bodies to the Regional Council.
[By seeing the bodies] many people (highlanders) were crying, and some
started throwing stones to the van of the President of Regional Council,
Okello Akwai, breaking the rear window. They were about to be attacked
by bodyguards (of the President), but the President refused, he himself
an Anywaa. What happened exactly was …
Who were those people that stoned the car?
They were highlanders, citizens. You know, it was very bad. The soldiers
were there. But they were fuelling it up, persuading highlanders to act
against Anywaa. And it happened. It was not necessary to take the bodies
to the Regional Council, not to the Hospital, and to move around Gambela
town, Jabjabe Hill, and unnecessary places. They were supposed to be taken
to the Hospital straight away, or to the Police station, and they should
have made coffins. But it was not like that. They agitated highlanders
to attack Anywaa. It was well planned. I think, because I saw every thing
Is it true that the bodies were badly damaged, mutilated?
In fact, I did not see them. They were covered. Some say that the bodies
were cut into pieces. They were dead and covered. I think that they were
exaggerating things, just to make highlanders angrier, just to annoy them.
So, highlanders immediately started killing. I think that a half of the
population of Gambela town are Anywaa. So, highlanders may fear. But it
was by order of the army and the army informed them that they were behind
them. In fact soldiers were the first to shoot, which encouraged highlanders
to go and get whatever they wanted. No Anywaa tried to resist, because
the soldiers were behind them and they were shooting. They shoot you first.
If you are shot, OK. If not, then highlanders chase you and beat you with
anything they have. Even those shot by guns were cut into pieces by machete,
so that people could not know that they were killed by bullets. I am a
witness for that because I myself was shot first, and …
In which part of Gambela town did the killing start?
You know, the order came from the Police station from where they fired.
You know, people living behind the former Regional Council, there is a
small market there. The area is called Bure Safar, and the killing started
there. You have Ras Gobana Primary School and Higher Secondary School.
Teachers living there were also the first to start killing near Television
station, Wuminiga area. In fact, it was badly attacked. Houses were set
fire, and looting, whatever …
Where were you when the killing started?
I was exactly at Wuminga where my house is. I first heard seven or eight
shots of guns. I was there and saw every thing. Even the people who were
killed like Pastor Okwer, I was seeing every thing. Even the killing of
a dresser of the Hospital, when a grenade exploded in his house, I saw
it. It is not far from my place, just about ninety meters. So, I was seeing
Who were the attackers? Do you know them personally?
Yes, I know them. I can tell you the names. Three teachers and two Defence
Force soldiers [and others] were the ones who attacked me. One teacher
of Ras Gobana Secondary, Werku, and two teachers of Jabjabe Primary School,
and a student of Jabjabe Primary School, and one trader who is our neighbor.
One soldier shot me three or four times.
Were those soldiers in uniform?
Yes, they were in uniform. You know, I was just standing at the gate
[of his compound] and watching what was happening. I was with my wife,
a son, and other two children. When things were deteriorating, I sent
them away. They ran away. I remained alone standing and waiting. I even
did not close the door. They shot me and I fell down. When I fell down
they shot me again, and it was missed. I could not go back to shut the
door. When I tried to run, they shot me again. I fell down. An old man
standing behind me was shot and died. I saw his blood. While they were
busy with him I ran away.
Which parts of your body were shot?
First I was shot at my chest. But the bullet did not hit me. It went
through my T-shirt and came out by the sleeve. When they shot for the
second time, I saw dust between my legs. Then I fell down. Before that
they shot from a distance and the bullet hit the gate of Pastor Othwol’s
house. I entered into his compound. Five or six of them came and aimed
at me. From then I did not know anything. They beaten me and I remained
there unconscious. After two or three minutes, I heard the sound of grenade
exploded in the house of Pastor Othwol Omot. He was inside the house with
other children and big boys. When I got up, the whole house thatched by
grass was burning. Even the hut I entered was burning. So I could not
see well except the fire and a soldier of the Defence Force. Then I tried
to walk away, but I could not run. My both legs had been beaten by machete.
I do not remember very well.
What I remember is that a boy came and caught my hand. When I looked
at him, he was shot and he ran away. They left me there. I went and fell
down in the Jabjabe river. I recall that a boy pulled me out of the river,
and took me to the bank. I did not know anything. It was about 1 pm. I
do not know exactly. From 1 pm up to 5 pm, I did not know anything. I
remained unconscious. Finally around 5 pm somebody came. Her name is Achala.
She was afraid because all of my face was drained with blood. She went
and called some boys. Okuny and others came and carried me to the house
of my father-in-law at Addis Safar. They washed me. My wife, mother-in-law,
and others were weeping beside me. They had run away and then were called
back. I spent a night there.
Next day on Sunday, I saw every thing from morning till evening. On Sunday
morning it (destruction and killing) started at 8 am. I saw people running.
They were looting and burning. It was very bad.
Can you tell me how many wounds you had on your body on that day?
Yes, I can tell you, but some of them I cannot tell you exactly because
I was unconscious. First my right hand indicating finger was injured by
bullet. It was broken and it is still paining. On the day, I did not feel
pain. My chin was hit by machete and it bled a lot. The lower lip was
also cut into two, and a lower tooth was dislodged. My nose was also hit
by machete and bled a lot. On my head there are four wounds hit by machete.
My left hand thumb was also hit by machete or what, I don’t know.
Now it is deformed. My ring finger is also broken at the bottom. My right
shoulder was badly beaten. One of my left ribs was broken. My left buttock
was badly beaten. Something might have been broken, and it is still painful.
Both of my legs were beaten by machete. They bled and swelled. I think
that they tried to cut my legs. Maybe they wanted break my legs so that
I could not run away. My left ankle is still paining. I don’t know
how many wounds I got. They were killing me. I was very lucky that I did
not die. It was very difficult to resist. I could not even speak because
my lower lip was cut. If you had seen me on that day, you could not have
recognized me. I was bleeding all over and different parts of my body
swelled. It was very bad.
You could not move? Did you stay in the house of in-law on Sunday?
I did not stay in the house. They lifted me up, but I could not walk.
So I crept into the grass of the graveyard, where the graves of Cam Ogala’s
brother and other Pinyudo’s people are. I just laid down under small
trees. Sometimes I got up and watched. On the other side of the Jabjabe
river I could see people shooting, looting, burning and taking things
I became tired and slept. When I woke up again around 11 am, I could
still see people running, shouting and insulting Anywaa. Shooting was
going on in the forest behind Dipo where there are fuel tanks. Shooting
and shooting, you could hear from far. People were after those who had
run away from town. It continued until the late afternoon around 5 pm
since morning. All Anywaa people in Wuminiga area were driven out of town,
except old ladies. On Saturday and Sunday they did not attack women. Very
few women were assaulted. They did not do raping. Raping happened on Monday
because all men were deserted. Men ran away, and those wounded men were
taken away. So only women remained. After looting every thing, burning
and destroying houses, they started to go to women. They raped women.
It was really bad, horrible. I cannot talk about it.
Who did commit the raping? Was it also done by citizens and soldiers?
Highlanders and soldiers. But mainly soldiers because they frightened
women (with guns). They were frightened and surrendered.
Can you tell me exactly who were the soldiers? I know they were EPRDF
soldiers, but were they all Tigrayan, or were many Oromo also included?
Yes, many soldiers were Orimo, because they belong to the Western Command
based in Jimma. Some soldiers from the Southern Regional State were also
included. High ranking officers were Tigrayan. I think the TPLF was responsible
for every thing, because they are the ones who rule and give orders.
Can you tell me the name of commander?
The name of commander is Tsegaye. He has been in Gambela for about two
years and is commanding all the forces in Gambela Region. I think he is
a captain (shambel). I met him twice in meetings, and he has hatred against
Anywaa. But I had not believed that the army could do such things to citizens.
That is why I did not run away, while I had heard the sound of shooting
in the beginning.
Where did you spend the Sunday night?
In the evening the attackers went back. Most of the time I laid down
in the grass, and in the evening my wife came to me, and we went back
to her parents’ house. I slept there. I tell you, on Saturday and
Sunday, we never thought about food. Nobody cooked and we did not eat
anything. I did not even feel hungry because of the pain.
On Monday morning at 9:30 they came again to that area. They were about
to kill me, but as there were very few people left at Wuminiga, they went
to Baro-Akobo area on the other side of the Jabjabe river. They killed
about two people, and set fire on houses. They came to our area in the
late afternoon around 4 pm. I was lying down, feeling much more pain than
the previous day. When they came, I could sense it because children who
had been playing kept silence. I could understand something was happening.
I raised my upper body and saw them coming. They were two soldiers in
uniform carrying AK-47 and three people with iron bars and machete. One
of the soldiers said, ‘This man is very sick. Leave him.’
So they left me.
They went and met about 14 boys who had come back from the forest. It
was late afternoon, and people fled to the forest were coming back to
town to sleep there. You know boys went out of town early in the morning
and returned in the late afternoon. They had these boys line up. They
lined up like slaves, one holding the shirt of another one in front of
him. I know them one by one very well. Then Anywaa policemen who saw all
this went and reported to the army. Army officers came to the spot and
released those boys. It was very fortunate that these policemen came across.
Otherwise, they might have been brought to the forest and killed.
They killed a lot of people, and the bodies were buried in mass graves
on Monday. One is behind the WFP compounds, another is behind the Jabjabe
Hill. Still many were buried in unknown graves. Only the soldiers could
pick up and take dead bodies somewhere.
So, some Anywaa policemen were still there?
Yes. But they had been disarmed and had no gun. On Saturday about six
policemen were badly beaten at the Police Station. But there were others
who were not beaten. On Monday I think that there was an order that there
should be no killing, and on Tuesday the Federal Police forces arrived.
From where did they come, and how many were they?
They came from Addis Ababa by land, and they were about 60. After their
arrival at least the killing stopped.
Was the situation improved after Tuesday?
After the arrival of Federal Police it became a little better and on
Wednesday people could move, and my friends and relatives were able to
come and see me. Before that it was impossible. Nobody came. If anybody
was seen crossing the road, he could have been killed immediately. So,
security improved. But from the other side of town (across the Baro river),
the area behind the TTC for instance, we had a report that raping was
still going on. It was very bad.
The security improved, but no Anywaa talked to a highlander, and no highlander
talked to an Anywaa. But they kept insulting Anywaa, saying ‘Now
you have seen what we did. The second step will come next. We spared women
and children in the first step, but in the second we kill you all’.
Some women whose husbands had been killed reported to the Federal Police,
and as a result some highlanders were arrested. That is why they wanted
to kill all Anywaa, so that there would be nobody to accuse them. After
two weeks from the incident many youths disappeared because they could
not tolerate the shameful situation in their own town. People were not
allowed to mourn the death. Nobody could weep. How could you stay? Your
houses were burnt, you could still see the blood on the ground. You could
not tolerate all these. So many people deserted and left [fled to Sudan
and Kenya]. I also should have left at that time, but I was very weak.
I could not walk because of the wounds.
Had Anywaa living in Gambela town never expected that such a massacre
If the incident had not been planned, how they could go to Ilea, Upanya,
Akado and other places to disarm Anywaa militia. The army went and disarmed
them on Sunday because they thought these militia men would come and defend
Anywaa. They also looted (in these villages). They beat one man and took
his money at Akado.
Conflicts prior to the Massacre, September-November
But did you ever feel that tension between Anywaa and highlanders
were growing? I know that there had been some cases of killing of highlanders
although the killers were not identified. I also heard that Anywaa peasants
and soldiers had fought in Gok.
Yes, I knew that. Gok was badly ravaged by the government. It was the
weakness of the government. The government was not involving itself to
solve the problem. Rather it was aggravating the situation. I think that
the Anywaa were too patient.
When the problem happened in Gok, the government did not try to catch
the suspects. Instead it assaulted innocent villagers.
When did it happen?
It happened in September (2003), and continued up to November. The government
soldiers, about 12 or 15, in Pinyudo together with policemen were sent
to Gok, and exchanged fire with the criminals. About three soldiers died
in the fight. Then in retaliation they set fire to the houses of villagers.
Were the criminals the ones who came from Dambala (gold mining place
Yes. The soldiers should have followed the gangs and caught them. Instead
of doing that, they attacked innocent villagers. In Pinyudo town they
threatened and beaten members of Gok Wereda Council. One of them lost
How many villagers were killed in Gok?
More than 30. But they were not killed at one time. Attacks continued
until November. Gok became a very insecure place. Nobody could go there.
With the escalation of the problem, in November an Isuzu van carrying
highlanders was attacked between Abwobo and Pinyudo. Some passengers were
killed. We do not know who did it. But the blame was put on the innocent
Anywaa. Again, a car was attacked at Choolan area between Gambela town
and Shabele, on the way to Dembidolo. 5 or 6 highlanders were killed.
This is an area controlled by the OLF. We do not know who did it. The
government is also there. Instead of going to investigate the case, they
beat local people. I really put the blame on the government. There was
also a hand grenade explosion at a billiard place in town, in which five
highlanders were wounded. … At one time two Anywaa criminals were
caught by the Anywaa policemen at Abwobo. Then two highlanders working
on road construction on contract near Abwobo were assaulted (and killed).
Then a meeting was held in Gambela town, organized by the Regional Council
and Defence Forces.
The Army’s Involvement in the Massacre
It was disclosed (in the above meeting held in Gambela town) that those
killings were committed by Anywaa, and it was declared that if any highlander
should be killed anywhere, the army would take action. The meeting threatened
people. And it was exactly what happened in December. The December massacre
should be the result of the meeting.
Before the massacre, on November 16, there held a secret meeting at the
military barrack outside of Gambela town. The atmosphere of the meeting
was very aggressive and decisive. In the meeting the decision was passed
to all soldiers that they should kill Anywaa. I got this news from a confidential
Reaction by the Federal Government
How was the meeting held at Gambela when Dr. Gebrehab Barnabas was
sent by the Federal Government?
You know, this Dr. Gebrehab is like a mad man. When he came, every day
there was a meeting: with workers, with party leaders, with victims. We
had a meeting on Saturday, 20 December. It was a public meeting with victims
held at the Regional Council. We talked to him a lot. There was a promise
that those who had fled to the forest would be brought back safely, and
that they would be assisted in medication, food, clothes, shelters, and
so on. It was promised that peace and security would be guaranteed. In
the meeting there were four points raised by us. One of them was the issue
of widows. The wife of the late pastor Okwer said that it had never happened
in history that a pastor hiding in his own house was killed by the government
army. ‘A pastor is the one,’ she said, ‘who brings peace
and reconciliation. But he himself was killed, together with people who
took refuge at his house. Moreover, even some people were killed in church.’
People complained a lot about killing, and about the way dead bodies had
been mistreated. You know, some corpses were burnt. But Gebrehab, Omot
Obang, and some body called Allma from the Federal Government did not
agree. Omot Obang is a member of the Regional Council in charge of police,
justice and administration, and is very much backed by the government.
He is like a prime minister, but he is not elected by people [a political
appointee]. He is anti-Anywaa, and just put in the position by the government.
He is still there. He is a bad guy. Gebrehab insisted that no army soldier
could have killed a citizen. They told him every thing, and I also told
him. But he did not agree. The lady told him that it was something like
apartheid in South Africa, killing innocent people in cold blood, and
that the government should investigate. She said, ‘What happened
along the road was done by a particular group. Those people should be
found. But instead of doing that, why did you kill innocent people?’
There was no answer. He denied every thing. … It was only recently
because of the American pressure that he admitted that the army was partly
responsible. After three months! Even Meles up to now has said nothing
about the issue. That means he knows the truth. He does not care, and
the killing is still going on in Gambela.
Seeking Refuge in Kenya
On which day did you leave Gambela for Addis Ababa?
I left on 28 in EC by air for Addis Ababa. It was on Friday (26 December),
two weeks after the incident. I was escaping secretly. They were waiting
for my wounds to heal. Before my leave the Federal Police called and interrogated
me three times about the cases of Ojulu Obang and Omot Oman who had escaped
and Ajoo Odol who had been arrested. Because of my job they thought that
I had got secret information and that I was the one supplying information
to those Anywaa abroad who were posting news of the massacre on internet.
In Addis they also followed me. It was impossible to go to Kenya by air,
so after staying in Addis for about two weeks, three other Anywaa and
myself set off by land (for Kenya).
 I read only the English version translated by Melese Tilahoun. I
have not yet read the original Amharic version.
 ‘Today is the Day of killing Anuaks’, a field report
by Genocide Watch and Survivor’s Rights International (25 February
2004) puts the figures as 424. The statement by Obang Metho, an Anywaa
activist and the representative of the Anywaa Survival Organization, at
the UN Commission on Human Rights (8 April 2004) puts the same number.
He further says that, out of those 424, 221 were buried in a mass grave.
It is strange that there is no mention to the mass grave(s) in the Inquiry
 See the above report and statement.
 Gambela People’s Liberation Movement, which seized power at
the regional level after 1991.
 Historically the core of ‘highlanders’ are ‘Abyssinians’,
the Semitic speaking Amhara and Tigrayan, who form the top of the ethno-racial
social strata. Other peoples like Cushitic speaking Oromo and Omotic speaking
Kambata are put below them. For the indigenous peoples of Gambela, however,
these internal divisions do not make much sense, and all of them are categorically
recognized as ‘highlanders’.
 The names of three interviewees are assumed for security reason.
 Jabjabe is a tributary of Baro (Opeeno) river, which runs through
the Gambela town on the northern bank of Baro. It used to be the boundary
between the Ethiopian side of Gambela and the British side (‘Baro
 Anywaa in Gambela used to have kings or nobles (nyieye, sing. nyieya)
and chiefs or village headmen (kwaari, sing. kwaaro).Both of them were
hereditary. These offices were abolished by the socialist regime, while
on the Sudanese side, they are still functioning. After 1991 some village
headmen and nobles were restored in Gambela region.
 It started on 25 November
2002 in Pinyudo (Fugnido) refugee camp. In the initial clash, 33 refugees,
mainly Dinka, were killed by Anywaa refugees. ‘UNHCR calls for more
security after deadly clashes in Ethiopian camp’, 10 Dec. 2002,
this file in Word format.