The Whereabouts of Kidnapped Ethiopian Students Still Unknown

By Staff Reporter

Oromia-KidnappingJanuary 14, 2020 ( -- Parents and kin of those students who were taken captives by gunmen in Oromia regional state in western Ethiopia said they have not seen or heard anything about their children even though the government announced the release of 21 hostages last Saturday.

The parents and families of the hostages have been expressing concern over the well-being of their children on various media outlets despite the announcements by the Prime Minister Press Secretariat that the captives were released and are healthy and safe.

The parents complained that they have not received any calls from their children. And, so far, the government is unwilling to disclose the whereabouts of the students.

The students were held captives while going back to their homes in Amhara state from Dembi Dolo University, which was closed due to ethnic-based clashes mainly between Oromo and Amhara students.

Asmara Shume who was one of the captives but escaped later confirmed that all the hostages were ethnic Amhara students.

Asmara Shume told the BBC Amharic that she was one of the 18 captives - 14 female and 4 male - comprised of graduating and first-year engineering students.

“We planned to go to Addis Ababa but the road leading to the city was closed. Then we decided to go to Addis Ababa via Gambella. However, we were held hostage halfway to Gambella at a place called ‘Sud’. The captors outnumbered the hostages,” said Asmara, who was majoring in engineering.

“There were 18 ethnic Amhara students as the car was made to stop by the kidnappers. There were ethnic Oromo students and other people too. The kidnappers selectively ordered ethnic Amhara students to step outside. Ethnic Oromo students and an old man begged the kidnappers to let us free, but to no avail,” she said.

“They took us to a nearby dense forest. Witnesses were there, but did nothing. After we went through the forest, some of the female students felt tired and fell down. When the kidnappers insisted that they stand up and continue, I disappeared from their sight and escaped," Asmara said.

According to Asmara, she arrived at the main road after spending two nights in the forest. Later she met an old man who had hidden her in his house and helped her reach Addis Zemen where her family resides.

“I received text messages from one of the female hostages who wrote that the hostages underwent physical intimidation, including rape,” Asmara told the local media.

“We were held hostages on December 3, 2019. Ethnic Amhara students are subjected to oppression. The government is not protecting the Amhara people from the unfolding attacks. The government is not doing enough to discharge its responsibilities," she said. It is unknown how this crime was not publicized early enough, given its magnitude. It is also not known how the kidnappers evaded local law enforcement for nearly a month in an area made of kebeles and woredas.

The captors are believed to be members of the rebel Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which is said to be engaging in fresh fighting against the government in Addis Ababa.

OLF Rebel leader Kumsa Diriba in the area told the BBC that his soldiers are not involved in the kidnapping.

Speaking to the state-run EBC late on Saturday, the Prime Minister’s Press Secretariat Head Nigusu Tilahun said 13 female and 8 male hostages were released following continuous negotiations in which elders and members of the Ministry of Defence were involved.

The students were held captives while they were going back home after 16 universities in Oromia and Amhara regional states were forced to close and release over 35,000 students due to the unfolding ethnic-based clashes on their campuses.

Six students are still held hostage by the gunmen, said Nugus,  who did not mention whether the negotiations were held between the government and the kidnappers.

He said the hostages were set free without any harm to the victims. However, reports are circulating that the students are being given special treatments ahead of appearing before their parents and the public.

Since Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister, Ethiopia has gone through a series of security crises in different parts of the country. Most of these crises have been in and around the Oromia state. The situation has worsened over time because of the inaction by local and central governments due to what some believe are political considerations. In some reports, local governments, especially in Oromia, have been accused of hiding local crimes and criminals, rather than upholding the rule of law. This has emboldened the criminals, say critics.

On several occasions, the federal government has claimed that they have brought criminals and human rights violators to justice. However, it is unknown how many of them have been fully prosecuted and sentenced.

It is also unknown why other local regional governments are not doing enough to protect their students who went elsewhere to study. The kidnapped students went through the ordeal of finding alternate routes on their own because no one cared whether they made it through safely or not - not the universities, not the regional governments.

Ethiopia is now with a real prospect of having its universities closed down in many locations. Many are thus wondering if the government of PM Abiy Ahmed cannot protect students, who else can it protect?

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