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Ethiopia Says 21 University Students Freed After Mass Abduction

Representative image.

Representative image.

The mass abduction occurred in early December, one student told AFP, but officials waited until Saturday to acknowledge it.

  • AFP
  • Last Updated: January 12, 2020, 1:19 PM IST
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Assis Ababa: Ethiopia said Saturday that 21 university students had been freed after gunmen held them captive for weeks — the latest incident of growing insecurity at college-level schools across the country.

The mass abduction occurred in early December, one student told AFP, but officials waited until Saturday to acknowledge it.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told state television that 13 female students and eight males had "been released in a peaceful manner" but that six others were still unaccounted for.

"We're working with local elders, religious leaders and security forces to secure the release of the students peacefully," Nigussu Tilahun said.

He did not say whether ransoms were paid, nor whom the government believed was responsible.

The incident occurred in Ethiopia's restive Oromia region and has focused attention on security challenges facing Abiy as he tries to steer the country toward elections in May.

A female student who said she managed to escape the kidnapping told AFP the gunmen identified themselves as members of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which is split between a political wing headquartered in Addis Ababa and a breakaway military wing active in western and southern Oromia.

The student said the group was abducted on December 4 when gunmen stopped a bus ferrying them to Addis Ababa from Dembi Dollo University, more than 600 kilometres (370 miles) to the west.

The OLF claims to champion the interests of the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia's largest, and the student said those who could not speak the Afaan Oromo language were seized and forced to march through the forest.

"I was at the back of the group, and when an opportunity came to hide in a hole in the forest I hid there, staying there for three days," she said, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity for reasons of safety.

It was not clear why officials waited more than a month to acknowledge the abduction.

Unconfirmed reports about it have circulated on social media for several days, some with the hashtag #ReleaseTheStudents.

Abiy's government has been criticised for failing to stem rising violence on Ethiopian university campuses that is largely fuelled by disputes between students from different ethnic groups.

In remarks on state television Saturday, Nigussu said 35,000 students had fled "disturbances" at 16 universities recently.

He said Abiy was trying to address the issue following discussions with university and other officials
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