Violence in Ethiopia’s Amhara region worrying, says deputy PM

Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen expressed concern over the escalation of violence in the northern Amhara region following clashes between federal troops and local fighters, which led Britain and Spain to issue security warnings.

The federal government’s decision in April to dismantle regional forces established by some states sparked violent protests in Amhara, with Amhara nationalists expressing concerns that the move could weaken Ethiopia’s second most populous region.

Late Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Demeke expressed concern over the escalating security problems in different areas of the Amhara region.

“We are at a historical time where we should be mindful of the fact that ‘If you don’t have peace, you will lose everything’,” Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen posted on Facebook, without identifying the parties involved in the clashes.

Ethiopian army spokesman Getnet Adane stated at a press conference this week that fighters claiming to be from the local militia Fano were responsible for the violence.

“We will take measures against those who in any way attacked our army or facilitated the attack on our army,” he said, denouncing fighters “who trade on the name of any force”, including Fano.

Britain’s Foreign Office warned its citizens against traveling to certain parts of Amhara, citing “increased violence in these areas characterized by Fano taking control of these areas.”

“Most recently, Lalibela Airport has been taken over by Fano militias,” the statement said, referring to the tourist town that is home to 12th and 13th-century rock-cut churches listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

No Ethiopian media has reported on any incidents in Lalibela, but the Spanish Embassy in Addis Ababa on Tuesday also urged its nationals not to travel to Amhara, citing “instability” in the region.

“Spaniards who are in Lalibela are advised not to leave their hotels or homes and to contact the Embassy in Addis Ababa,” it said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Amhara’s regional forces and local militias had backed federal troops in their two-year war against Tigrayan rebels until a peace deal was signed in November 2022, which angered Amhara nationalists.

Despite the peace agreement, “special forces” from Amhara and Fano fighters continue to exert control over Western Tigray, an area claimed by both the Amhara and Tigrayans.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed stated in April that the decision to dismantle regional forces and incorporate them into the national army or regional police would strengthen the “unity” of multi-ethnic Ethiopia.

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