Violence in southern Ethiopia forces more than 800,000 to flee

NAIROBI (REUTERS) - Violence in southern Ethiopia since June has forced more than 800,000 people to flee their homes and they need food and other aid, a report by the United Nations and the government said on Wednesday (July 4).

The inter-ethnic violence erupted in April around 400km south of the capital and in all, more than 1.2 million people have been forced to flee, said the report that gave no details of casualties.

"Renewed violence along the border areas of Gedeo and West Guji zones since early June... has led to the displacement of over 642,152 IDPs (internally displaced persons) in Gedeo zone... and 176,098 IDPs in West Guji zone of Oromia region," the report said.

Traditional leaders encouraged the movement of people back to their homes after the initial fighting in April, but many fled again in June, the report said.

"The security situation has been challenging despite the deployment of the Ethiopian Defence Forces in the area, with reports of continued destruction of houses, other assets and service infrastructure," it read.

Ethiopia is an ethnically diverse country of 100 million people and ethnic discontent helped fuel protests that led to the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in February.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in April and has pledged political and economic reforms to address complaints of marginalisation by a number of ethnic groups, including his own group, the Oromos.

Diplomats told Reuters that more than 200 people were killed last month, but said the figure was an estimate because a lack of security made confirmation impossible.

The fighting is one of several ethnic conflicts fuelled by grievances over land in Ethiopia, Africa's second-largest country by population.

Last year, dozens died in violence between people from the Somali and Oromo ethnic groups. Hundreds of thousands of people fled their homes and are yet to return.

Ethiopia's ruling coalition took power in 1991 and has created regional states based on ethnicity in a federal republic.