By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA (BosNewsLife)– Christians in western Ethiopia fear for their lives after dozens of believers were reportedly massacred by armed militants.
At least 24 Christians were killed on March 7 by fighters of the OLF Shane group in Horo Guduru Welega zone, formerly Welega Province, said Christian aid group, Barnabas Fund.
OLF Shane claims to fight for the right of the Oromos, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. But there was no immediate known motive for the killings.
The group split from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), an opposition party that spent years in exile but was allowed to return to Ethiopia after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018
In comments published by Ethiopian media, the opposition party denied involvement in the violence.
Last week’s attack targeted Christians at a church service on the eve of Ethiopian Lent, a period of fasting and praying starting March 8, Barnabas Fund told BosNewsLife.
Barnabas Fund quoted local contacts as saying that OLF Shene fighters surrounded the church and forced the congregation members to hand over their mobile phones.
“The armed men then killed the two ministers outside the church before taking the other Christians to a nearby forest where they too were killed,” Barnabas Fund stressed in a statement.
There were unconfirmed reports that the church was also torched in the attack. Local authorities confirmed the violence.
Local Christians have asked for prayers amid concerns of more attacks, Worthy News learned. Barnabas Fund said Christians in the region are living “under an ongoing threat of violent attack. “Christians are living in utter fear day in and day out,” a contact was quoted as saying.
It comes while Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a devout Pentecostal Christian and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, faces pressure to end hostilities, including in the northern Tigray region.
The U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said this month there were a “growing number of credible reports of atrocities and human rights violations and abuses.”
Ethiopia’s military ousted the former local ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), from the regional capital Mekelle in November.
However, thousands of people have died in the conflict, and hundreds of thousands have been forced from homes in the conflict.
There are also shortages of food, water, and medicine in the region of more than 5 million people.
The government has said that most fighting has stopped in Tigray but has admitted isolated incidents of shooting.
Both sides deny their forces committed atrocities and blame other forces for the killing of civilians.