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Ethiopian Government Lifts Telecom Ban on West Oromia Amid International Outcry

By Staff Reporter

Wollega-EthiopiaApril 1, 2020 (Ezega.com) -- The government of Ethiopia has lifted telephone and internet services ban it imposed on four zones in Wellega in Oromia regional state of western Ethiopia.

The government had suspended mobile phone networks, landlines, and internet services in western Oromia’s Kellem Wellega, West Wellega, and Horo Gudru Wellega zones since it launched a counterattack in mid last year against the rebel force known as “Shene.”

In a briefing on Tuesday, President of the Oromia region Shimeles Abdissa blamed the rebel group for the destruction of telecom infrastructures and facilities in the four zones and subsequent breakdown of communication services.

The president said the regional government has decided to restore the telecom services after the security threats in the four zones were solved.

However, deputy chief of staff of the national defense force Berhanu Jula last month admitted that the government intentionally cut the telecom services in a bid to conduct successful operations against the insurgents.

The government has accused members of the rebel Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) of killing, kidnapping and harassing innocent people and government officials in Qellem Wellega and surrounding areas in western Ethiopia.

The President stated that over the past few days he visited the Western and Eastern Wollega areas and held public discussions, which has led to the decision of lifting the telecom service ban.

Last weekend, the UN High Commission for Human Rights expressed its concerns over the sustained shut down of Internet and telephone lines in western Oromia amidst the spread of COVID-19.

“We are very concerned by the continued communications shutdown in parts of Ethiopia, and more broadly call on all countries to ensure that everyone has ready and unhindered access to the internet and phone services, all the more in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Geneva-based UN Rights Commission said.

It mentioned Ethiopia imposed an Internet and communications blackout on 7 January, citing security concerns, blocking internet access and phone services in areas under federal military control – namely western Oromia’s Kellem Wellega, West Wellega, and the Horo Gudru Wellega zones.

The shutdown coincided with government military operations against the armed wing of the once-banned Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).

The statement noted that “over the course of the past year, the Ethiopian Government has shut down the internet on a number of occasions, affecting the lives and human rights of the Ethiopians resident in concerned areas: hampering their ability to share and access information or simply to maintain contact with loved ones.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also early March demanded the Ethiopian government to immediately lift the shutdown of internet and phone communications in the four zones.

HRW in a statement said the prolonged shutdown prevented families from communicating, disrupted life-saving services, and contributed to an information blackout during government counter-insurgency operations in the area.

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