A gun attack by suspected rebels on a public bus in western Ethiopia has left 19 people dead and eight others injured, a government official.

“The attack took place yesterday (Monday) around 2 pm…. I suspect it was an anti-peace element we consider as rebels,” said regional president Omot Odeng Olol.

Omot said the suspected rebels armed with machine guns stole money and clothes from the passengers before opening fire on them.

He said the gunmen have not yet been caught.

No one claims responsibility

“We deployed a number of forces and we are still looking, and they are not yet caught,” he said, adding that he does not expect the assailants to launch further attacks in the area as security has been beefed up since Monday.

Omot said when police arrived at the scene bodies were strewn on the ground as the injured were taken to a nearby hospital. “That kind of thing is the very worst you can imagine,” he said.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Farmers forced off land

Ethiopia’s Gambella region, which lies some 700 kilometres (430 miles) to the west of the capital Addis Ababa, is one of the most fertile and resource-rich areas of the country.

In January the US-based Human Rights Watch accused Addis Ababa of forcing thousands of villagers from their land to make way for commercial farming developments, leaving people impoverished and hungry.

At least 3.6 million hectares (8.8 million acres) – an area larger than the Netherlands — has been leased to foreign and state-owned firms since 2008, with state security using force to drive people from off their land, HRW said.

Source: Radio Netherlands