Ethiopian government soldiers ride in the back of a truck on a road near Agula, north of Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. File | Photo Credit: AP

According to the human rights organization, residents and others told the panel in the area that the shooters slew more than 150 people. Women and children were forced to evacuate to neighboring communities due to the incident, which provoked a wave of retaliation killings.

According to the state-aligned but independent panel, witnesses recalled fighters linked with the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), a rebel group, coming on August 18 after security troops retreated from Gida-Kirimu in the western area.

The government-appointed commission did not name the perpetrators of the vengeance actions. The attack occurred a day after security forces were relocated to other districts, according to the statement.

According to local reports and sources, the initial attack was directed towards ethnic Amharas, who have previously endured similar attacks.

The panel demanded “urgent action” to avert additional instability, as well as a probe into why security troops withdrew from the volatile region.

The OLA issued a statement denying responsibility for the attacks. The organization is thought to be active in the area where the most recent incident occurred.

In a tweet on Thursday, the rebel group’s spokesperson, Odaa Tarbii, called such allegations a “gross distortion of the facts on the ground.”

In May, parliament labeled the OLA and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), whose rebel troops have been battling in Ethiopia’s north since November, as “terrorist organizations.”

The government has accused the OLA of massacring civilians in Oromia and Amhara, the country’s two largest regions.

According to federal officials, clashes between the two ethnic groups killed more than 300 people over many days in March.

Accusations that the gang was behind the heinous atrocities have been refuted. The OLA split from the Oromo Liberation Front. This opposition organization had been in exile for years but was allowed to return to Ethiopia after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed assumed office in 2018.

The OLA and the TPLF stated earlier this month that they had formed an agreement to combat Abiy’s army and allies together.

According to an OLA spokesman, the two organizations agreed that Abiy’s “dictatorship” had to be overthrown and that they were sharing intelligence and strategizing together.

The administration described the agreement as a “destructive alliance” between two factions attempting to destabilize the country.

Since November, when Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, dispatched soldiers into Tigray to depose the TPLF, northern Ethiopia has been wracked by conflict.

He said TPLF attacks on federal army camps prompted the move and that victory would come quickly.

However, nine months later, the fighting had expanded to the neighboring districts of Afar and Amhara, enlisting the help of Ethiopian forces.

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