Addis Ababa- Ethiopia (PANA) -- Ethiopia's Defence ministry has refuted a report by a local human rights group that soldiers had fired bullets and seriously injured 50 people during the recent riot in the western Gambella town.
The statement issued by the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRC) alleging that members of the army shot at people was "absolutely groundless", the ministry asserted.
In a statement late Tuesday, the ministry said the EHRC's allegation that the army had collected eight dead bodies, which had been cut into pieces, and taken them to Gambella town, was baseless and irresponsible.
"Our army members did not take part in such practices," the ministry maintained, explaining that the bodies were the first victims of the violence, and were retrieved by members of the Gambella State Administration.
The army, in collaboration with the federal and state governments, played a significant role in bringing about law and order in the town, the statement said.
"Our army did not have any intention of firing bullets on certain quarters.
It has rather been able to ensure peace and stability in the area," the ministry said.
It said the army, with its barracks 22km away from Gambella town, was charged with the security of the national border, but managed to contain the conflict after it had been ordered to do so.
According to the ministry, the army paid sacrifices to foil the violence that was instigated by anti-peace forces.
In cooperation with the state administration's police force, the army pursued and captured suspected instigators of the violence "without firing a bullet", the ministry said.
Since then the army has actively taken part in ensuring that normalcy returned to Gambella town and displaced persons were resettled.
The ministry said the EHRC's statement was aimed at fuelling conflict among tribes residing in western Ethiopia's state of Gambella.
Meanwhile, the whereabouts of the President of Gambella State, Okelo Okuaye, remain unknown in the wake of the riots.
Police Commissioner Lieutenant Kong Lule was quoted by the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) as saying Okelo was last seen 10 January 2004.
Okelo was reported to have taken with him two personal bodyguards and a driver, but the car he used that day was found parked in Gambella town, the police official said, adding that his disappearance is being investigating.