Residents in the volatile Somali region of eastern Ethiopia on Sunday reported riots, looting and ethnic attacks, as the US embassy in Addis Ababa advised its citizens to avoid the region.
“Everybody is inside his home. Nobody is leaving,” said a resident of the regional capital Jigjiga who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“So many of my neighbours… have lost their hotels, their shops their homes, everything.
Each and every house has lost everything,” added the resident, who said he was in danger because of his Amhara ethnicity.
It was unclear what triggered the unrest which began on Saturday but photos circulating on social media showed Ethiopian military vehicles deployed in Jigjiga.
A second resident who belongs to Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, said a Somali family was sheltering him from the feared Liyu regional police force, which rights groups have repeatedly accused of abuses.
He added that mobs were emptying bank vaults and torching churches in the majority Muslim region.
The US embassy in Addis Ababa said Saturday the Ethiopian military had “seized control of key highways, government buildings, and the airport in Jijiga”.
“Media continue to report sporadic on-going unrest in various parts of Ethiopia’s Somali region.
While the unrest appears to be centred around Jijiga, there are reports of incidents of violence in Dire Dawa and other areas of the Somali region,” it added on Sunday in another travel warning.
“US Embassy personnel are avoiding the region until the situation returns to normal and we encourage Americans to do the same,” it said.
Ethiopia’s defence ministry on Saturday issued a statement saying it would take “necessary measures” to restore order in the region.
“The ministry will not sit by and watch,” it said in a statement carried by the state-affiliated Fana media outlet.
Ethiopia is divided between ethnically demarcated federal regions that are intended to give different ethnicities a degree of self-rule but have been criticised for exacerbating ethnic tensions.
Somali is Ethiopia’s second-largest region and one of its most unstable.
Around 1.1 million people fled their homes last year when ethnic fighting broke out along its border with neighbouring Oromia region.
Last month, Human Rights Watch accused the regional government of running a secret prison where it tortured, raped and starved suspected members of a separatist group.