ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – An Ethiopian opposition group said on Friday that police had arrested more than 2,600 people in the last three weeks for taking part in land protests and that the government was thereby aiming to deter future protests.
Plans to requisition farmland in the Oromiya region surrounding the capital for development sparked the country’s worst unrest in over a decade, with rights groups and U.S.-based dissidents saying as many as 200 people may have been killed.
An opposition coalition said the arrests over protests in the four months up to February came despite government assurances of clemency.
Representatives of the government were not immediately available for comment.
Authorities scrapped the land scheme in January and pledged not to prosecute the demonstrators, while Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn issued an apology in parliament last month saying his administration would work to address grievances over governance.
Despite the pledges, the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum (MEDREK) said 2,627 people have since been “illegally rounded up” and remain under custody.
“It is an act of reprisal,” MEDREK’s chairman Beyene Petros told Reuters.
“The whole purpose why they are increasing their witchhunt is to simply stop the public from planning or initiating any future public protest,” he added.
The coalition said in a statement that the arrests took place in 12 different areas of Oromiya, Ethiopia’s largest region by size and population.
The second-most populous nation in Africa with 90 million people, Ethiopia has long been one of the poorest countries in the world per capita, but has made strides toward industrialization, recording some of the continent’s strongest economic growth rates for a decade.
But reallocating land for new developments is a thorny issue in a country where the vast majority of the population still survives on small farms. The opposition says farmers have often been forced off land and poorly compensated.