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Ethiopia Dismisses Human Rights Watch Report on Oromia Region

Ethiopian authorities have dismissed a 61-page report by Human Rights Watch that details the killings of more than 400 people over the past seven months in a crackdown on protests in the country's Oromia region.

Government spokesman Getachew Reda told VOA Thursday an organization so far from the realities on the ground could not have issued an accurate account of the human rights situation in Oromia.

The spokesperson said Ethiopia's national human rights commission issued its own report with death tolls that were significantly lower than the Human Rights Watch report and accused the organization of not checking its facts.

Human Rights Watch said soldiers have repeatedly fired live ammunition at Oromia protesters with little or no warning or attempts to use non-lethal crowd control measures. It said many of those killed were students, including children under the age of 18.

The rights group also said police have arrested tens of thousands of people since the protests began, and that many remain in detention without charge and access to lawyers or family members.

The protests were triggered by concerns about the government's proposed expansion of Addis Ababa's boundaries. Demonstrators feared the plan would displace Oromia farmers.

The government canceled the plan in January but protests continued due to what one Oromia resident called the "brutal crackdown."

Human Rights Watch noted that some of the protests turned violent, resulting in looting or destruction of government-owned property. The group, however, said its investigation found that most protests were peaceful.

Human Rights Watch said its report is based on interviews with 125 protesters, bystanders and victims of abuse.

It is calling on the government to free detained protesters, support a credible investigation into the killings and hold security force members accountable for the alleged abuses.