Radical ethno-nationalist youth from the Sidama Liberation Movement (SLM) have torched three Christian churches in southern Ethiopia, bringing their death toll in the last five days to 60 victims.
The rebel youth, known as Ejeto, burned Ethiopian churches in the dioceses of Sidama, Amaro, and Burji, according to local church authorities. The names of the churches are Doya Michael, Gesaba-Gebrekristos, and Chiro Amanuel, all of which were in the Sidama region of the country.
The SLM is a separatist group that is fighting for the establishment of an independent state of Sidama. Militants from the group have clashed recently with government security forces trying to maintain order in the area.
Those belonging to the Sidama ethnicity in Ethiopia are believed to number some 3.5 million, which represents about three percent of Ethiopia’s population of 105 million. Recent violence by those demanding ethnic statehood for the Sidama people has targeted non-Sidama ethnic communities, such as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
According to one witness, Megabi Haymanot Kesis Netsanet Aklog, the three churches represented “three sacred places of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.”
The attack specifically targeted the Ethiopian church, reports claimed, and the assailants killed members of the faithful who tried to defend the churches. Social media circulated a disturbing image of a priest who was murdered in cold blood during the assaults.
Following the attacks on the three churches, several deacons fled to adjacent churches in the Oromo region of Ethiopia.
On Sunday, the archbishop of Sidama called for a week of prayer and a group from the Ethiopian Religious Council is expected to travel to the scene to investigate the attacks.