Expert says tension at Oromo-Somali border may turn to ethnic conflict

The recent conflict caused by disputes on khat tax collection in bordering areas of Somali and Oromia Regions has created tension, sources said.

Wazema reported here today that the conflict took an ethnic form after the armed forces from the Oromia side wearing uniforms of the Special Forces of Oromia Region attacked the Somali Internally Displaced Persons who were camped at a spot named Koloji.

Eyewitnesses who fled to Jigjiga told Wazema that the forces of the Oromia Region killed over 10 civilians including two children. Following the shooting at the IDPs camp, civilians were killed and wounded, Wazema said, adding that the tribal militants of the Somali Region in the area clashed with the forces of the Oromia Region.

The news source revealed that the conflict erupted following a dispute between the two sides on the contentious issue of levying tax on Khat. The initial conflict was between Somali militants and security forces of the Oromia Region. Currently the tension seems to escalate into an ethnic conflict, according to sources.

The exchange of fire started after the Somali forces moved the tax collection station from Kara-Mara to Babile area. Then the forces of Oromia advanced closer to the border and both sides set up checkpoints at the middle ground. On the day when the conflict broke out, there was an exchange of gunfire between the two sides for hours, according to eyewitnesses who fled the conflict site and moved to Jigjiga.

After the outbreak of the conflict, the National Defense Army and the Federal Police took control of the main route and the shooting continued in the mountainous areas outside the main line. At the time of reporting of this news, the shooting in the area has been dying out, according to the sources who closely follow the issue.

Even though the federal security forces have been deployed in the area, both sides have positioned their security forces to the conflict site, according to Wazema. Security forces of the Oromia Region have already been deployed in the area, and now the Somali Region has also pulled its regular security forces  closer to the site.

Though it is said the root cause of the problem is khat tax, the current volatile situation has created big tension in the area, according to an expert on peace and security issues. This expert expressed concern that if the two sides that are in dispute over territorial claims  are not entertained properly, it will be very dangerous.

The experts said that as the inclination being observed is to “swallow up” the disputed areas, the current conflict sparked between the two regions is not a simple matter to cool down. If the border dispute resumes, combined with the previous rift between the two regions, there is a risk that it could lead to a worse conflict, according to the expert.

Some of the evacuees who were camped at the Koloji site where the conflict occurred have fled to Jigjiga, Degahana and Babile Towns. The place where the displaced persons took refuge is the bordering area of East Hararghe Zone of Oromia Region and Fentale Zone of Somali Region. Although the natives of the two regions widely dispersed in the border areas, there are occasional tensions. Neither the two states nor the federal government has released official information about the conflict in the area.

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