Ethiopian Police Drawn Into Nation’s Deepening Ethnic Strife

Ethiopian Police Drawn Into Nation’s Deepening Ethnic Strife

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  • Arrests follow fighting between federal, Tigrayan forces
  • Prime Minister Abiy says military action proceeding as planned

(bloomberg)–Civil strife in Ethiopia has taken a new twist, with police officers standing accused of targeting ethnic Tigrayans in Addis Ababa, the capital, as fighting intensifies in the northern region. Two residents and a municipal official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared repercussions, said they had direct knowledge of Tigrayans being rounded up and detained. There were similar reports on social media. The development has coincided with seven days of fighting between government troops and forces loyal to the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, which rules the Tigray region.

A Tigrayan reporter who covers the region for the Addis Standard, an independent, Addis Ababa-based newspaper, was among those apprehended on Nov. 7, according to its editor Tsedale Lemma. He was taken to court and accused of “attempts to dismantle the constitution through violence,” while armed security guards had come to the newspaper’s office, she said. The reporter was released on Tuesday.

“They knew our reporter is an ethnic Tigrayan,” Tsedale said. “I cannot separate his work from his identity.”

Jeylan Abdi, the federal police spokesman, didn’t respond to questions about the spate of detentions. On Nov. 7, Addis Ababa Mayor Adanech Abebe confirmed the arrests of 10 unidentified city officials in the capital, accusing them of “terrorist activities.” He has subsequently requested members of the public to identify people they suspect of being TPLF members or supporters.

Relations between Tigray and the federal government have been strained since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018 and sidelined the TPLF, once the pre-eminent power broker in Ethiopia. Last month, the federal parliament ordered the Treasury to halt direct budgetary support to the Tigrayan administration for defying an order to postpone regional elections.

Clashes ensued after Abiy ordered the army to respond to an alleged attack on a federal military camp in Tigray. The violence has stoked concerns about a broader war at a time when the government is struggling to end ethnic violence shaking Africa’s second-most populous country.

Violent Campaign

The fears were born out on Tuesday by state media reports that special forces had carried out operations against the Oromo Liberation Army, an anti-government group that broke away from the Oromo Liberation Front last year and is conducting a violent campaign in the Oromia region.

The government only plans to hold talks to end the conflict once Tigray’s military equipment has been destroyed, Redwan Hussein, the state minister for foreign affairs, told reporters. Federal forces were initially pushed back into Eritrea and were now carrying out a counter-offensive, and could soon retake the town of Shiraro on the border with Eritrea, he said.

“They attacked some of the regiments and they had to retreat and even cross to Eritrea,” Redman said. “But now they have regrouped and they are now coming back to engage in an offensive.”

Ethiopia’s $1 billion of 2024 Eurobonds fell for a fifth day, with the yield climbing 12 basis points on Tuesday to 7.492%.

On Nov. 8, Debretsion Gebremichael, Tigray’s regional president, wrote to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who holds the rotating chairmanship of the African Union, requesting the continental body to engage all sides in the conflict to “avert an all-out civil war.”

Ramaphosa has spoken to Abiy and was trying to ease the situation, Smail Chergui, the AU’s commissioner for peace and security, said in a phone interview.

Sudanese Minister of Defense Yassin Ibrahim issued a statement on Tuesday expressing concern about the conflict and calling for it be resolved peacefully. His comments came a day after Sudan’s state broadcaster SUNA reported that 30 Ethiopian army soldiers crossed the border into Sudan’s Al-Luqdi area in the eastern al-Qadarif state.

(Updates with government officials comments in second paragraph below Violent Campaign subheadline)

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