News24

14 held over deadly attacks in western Ethiopia

2012-06-23 07:14

Addis Ababa - Fourteen gunmen suspected of killing 24 people in two separate attacks in western Ethiopia earlier this year have been arrested, a government spokesman said Friday.

He said the suspects were arrested after crossing into neighbouring South Sudan where they clashed with the army, the Southern People's Liberation Army (SPLA), killing two South Sudanese soldiers.

"There was a fire exchange between SPLA forces and rebels. Two members of South Sudanese forces died and several members of the rebel forces were killed and 14 were arrested," the spokesman, Shimeles Kemal, said.

In April, armed gunmen killed five people on the Pakistani-owned Saudi Star rice farm in Gambella. The attack came weeks after 19 people were killed on a public bus in the same region.

The suspects have now been extradited to Ethiopia and are being investigated, according to Shimeles.

"The criminal investigation has commenced and they will be brought before the court as soon as the investigation is completed," he said.

The gunmen are not known to be affiliated with a particular group, but Shimeles said the probe may reveal connections with an organised rebel group.

"Whether they have any particular designation to a particular rebel group will be determined in the outcome of the investigation," he said.

Ethiopia's Gambella region, which lies some 700 kilometres to the west of the capital Addis Ababa, is one of the most fertile and resource-rich areas of the country.

Saudi Star is one of several international investors operating farms in Gambella, where cotton and rice grow in abundance.

Human Rights Watch has accused the government of forcing thousands of people off the land to make way for commercial farming developments in Gambella, but the government maintains large-scale agricultural schemes will bring development to the region.

In May, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said 4 million hectares of land - an area larger than the Netherlands - have been earmarked for agricultural investment.