A rebel commander of Ethiopia’s rebel Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) has told the BBC that the militants staged a prison break in Bule Hora city in the south of the country.
“After an hour-long fight with government forces, we broke [into] the prison and freed more than 2,000 people who have been jailed after being accused of supporting the OLA,” Jaal Abdisa, OLA deputy commander for West Guji, which includes Bule Hora, told the BBC:
Local officials say the number of people who escaped is much lower at 480.
Residents in the area told the BBC they heard gunshots for several hours.
Commander Jaal Abdisa said the prison break was staged to free its sympathisers detained by the government.
But this was a bloody operation leaving a number of police officers dead. Local officials say some of those who escaped were convicted criminals and others were OLA members.
Even though the attack happened last weekend – details are only emerging in the last few days because the region is remote and too dangerous for the media to operate in.
Mobile phone footage which circulated after the prison break shows a chaotic scene at night.
The BBC has not been able to independently verify the video, but armed fighters wearing military uniform are seen walking around as inmates quickly gather their belongings. The voice of a man then congratulates the prisoners on being released by the OLA.
Ethiopia’s parliament has designated the OLA as a terrorist group.
The militants claim they are fighting against the oppression of the Oromo people who make up 40% of Ethiopia’s population.
Despite efforts to reach peace in northern Ethiopia fighting has intensified in the populous Oromia region.