Bekele’s sister is one of many students from Ethiopia’s Derbak University who have been missing for a week. She got on a bus to go home but never arrived.

When Bekele finally got a call from her, an unknown man demanded 700,000 birr ($12,000) for her release.

Last Wednesday, gunmen kidnapped dozens of bus passengers, mostly students. Some escaped, but over 100 people are still held. The kidnappers called Bekele three times, demanding the ransom, which he can’t afford.

Kidnappings for ransom have surged in Ethiopia, especially in Oromia, the largest region. The government’s struggle to control various conflicts has led to increased lawlessness.

The students were traveling to Addis Ababa when their buses were stopped near Garba Guracha, Oromia. Gunmen ordered everyone off, beat them, and forced them into the woods.

The kidnappers took the captives to a remote area where the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) operates. The OLA, labeled a terrorist group by the government, denies funding its operations through kidnappings. Mehret and Petros, two students who escaped, say the OLA was behind their abduction.

The remaining captives are in a dire situation. One student called her family, saying she saw others killed by the captors. Her relative said she has lost hope of being freed.

This mass abduction is similar to past incidents. Over a year ago, more than 50 passengers were kidnapped. In 2019, 18 university students in Oromia were abducted and remain missing. The government has faced criticism for failing to secure their release.

Kidnappings occur in other regions too, like Tigray and Amhara. In March, a 16-year-old girl in Tigray was kidnapped, and her body was found in June after her family couldn’t pay the ransom.

Abductees often endure torture and cruel treatment. The government has not commented on the latest abduction, and relatives of the kidnapped students are frustrated with the authorities’ lack of response.

Dalke, whose daughter was taken, and another father both expressed their despair. They have no money to pay the ransom and only hope to see their children again.

(Source: BBC)

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