BELGRAVES, Ethiopia — Soldiers and militia fired missiles and fired bullets in Ethiopia’s rebel-held Oromia region on Wednesday, and the civil administration put the population on edge ahead of a key vote.
In the town of Belogorsh in Amhara region, a teenage boy was struck by a stray bullet Wednesday afternoon. He died shortly afterwards, according to reports from civilians inside the town.
“Two shells fell on a family selling goats. A woman and her daughter were hurt,” said Mesfin Shiferaw, a resident.
He said the same thing happened earlier in the day.
“It’s the usual thing, we expect it. No one knows if the injuries are really from missiles or bullets. We don’t feel safe when it happens,” he said.
The town is 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Earlier this week, another 14 people were killed in the Oromia region when officers opened fire on a demonstration about land disputes, according to the Oromia Revolutionary Democratic Front, the rebel coalition that has been fighting for an independent Oromia state for years.
A government state-run television station said five government buildings, including a police station, and 12 houses were set on fire.
The Oromia rebel coalition denied those claims and said 1,000 Ethiopian soldiers and local militia surrounded a protest to end the demonstrations. At least nine people were killed and more than 100 injured, it said.
The Interior Ministry insisted the protests had nothing to do with the upcoming elections and that it was clamping down on “illegal organizations” in Oromia region. The next vote is scheduled for April 10.
“The protest today is only to notify the public to exercise their constitutional right and exercised by a section of Oromo people,” the government said.
There has been growing speculation in Ethiopia that one of the candidates in the upcoming election, Martin Elia Shiferaw, is planning to set up a new party from scratch ahead of the April vote. On March 1, he wrote on his Facebook page that he was considering it.
It is unclear if Shiferaw has formally registered.
Shiferaw and the Oromia rebel coalition said their April rally in the town of Duma was a “forgery” and called on the public to revolt if it took place.