Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed at the weekend travelled to a region where clashes displaced nearly a million people, his first trip since being sworn in as premier five days ago.
Violence along the border of the Horn of Africa country’s Somali and Oromiya provinces first erupted in September, with both regions blaming the other for the unrest.
Since September, officials in Oromiya repeatedly blamed raids by a paramilitary force from the Somali region as the cause. The Somali region denies those claims and says its residents are unjustly targeted in attacks.
On Saturday, Abiy arrived in Jijiga – the capital of the Somali region – in a bid to tackle the problems.
“This has been a tragedy that should never have taken place,” the state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation quoted him as saying in a speech.
A report said he pledged “to find sustainable solutions in a short time” and provide support to those displaced.
The area has been plagued by sporadic clashes for decades. A referendum in 2004 to determine the status of disputed settlements failed to ease tensions.
The ruling EPRDF coalition picked Abiy last month to replace Hailemariam Desalegn, who quit to clear the way for reforms in Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation racked by violence for the last three years.
Hundreds have been killed by security forces in Oromiya, in violence triggered by land rights and fuelled by a sense of political and economic marginalisation among the young.
After taking the oath of office, the former army lieutenant colonel struck a conciliatory tone and addressed the need for ethnic unity.
Since January Addis Ababa has released thousands of prisoners including dissidents and journalists in a bid to calm discontent.
On Friday, it also shut down a detention facility known as “Makelawi”, where rights groups allege torture has taken place. Government plans to turn it into a museum.
Government has often been accused by rights groups of using security concerns as an excuse to stifle dissent and media freedoms.
“Whether government will succeed in its pledged reforms or not only time will tell,” said Merera Gudina, chairperson of the opposition group Oromo Federalist Congress.
“The challenges are immense.”