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Ethiopia

Prime minister Abiy presses ahead with national takeover of regional forces – despite mass protests

Amhara fighters in Gondar oppose the reorganisation but Addis Ababa says its plans have been misinterpreted

Opposition is mounting to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's plan to reintegrate the special military forces from the country's eleven regions into the national army and police service. This plan pits Abiy against leading ethno-nationalists in Amhara region who oppose some of the concessions that the Addis Ababa government has made towards the Tigray region (AC Vol 64 No 1, A fragile truce with many foes).

Two aid workers were killed amid five days of protests and unrest in Amhara region, the Catholic Relief Services reported on 10 April. A day earlier, Abiy said that Addis was determined to go ahead with the security reorganisation even if '…a price had to be paid.' Several Amhara activists and journalists have been detained in Addis over the past few weeks.

Special forces in the Amhara region are strongly resisting the integration plan. Ethiopia's constitution allows the regions to run their own policy and security forces, in coordination with the federal military. But in the face of security challenges across the country, these regional forces have built up substantive autonomy from the centre, and have been reinforced by local militia fighters.

After reports from Gondar and Kobe on 9 April of mass demonstrations with fighters shooting in the air to show their defiance of the government order, the Amhara regional government banned demonstrations and ordered a curfew. Some reports have referred to artillery fire but no further details have emerged.

Many Amhara special forces fighters see the reorganisation as threatening their position following the federal government's ceasefire agreement with the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) last November.

Along with local militias, Amhara special forces backed the federal army in its two-year war with the TPLF. But relations between ethnic nationalists in Amhara and Abiy's government Addis Ababa have been fraying over the past year (AC Vol 63 No 25, Tentative steps towards peace).

Some Amhara politicians suspect that Addis Ababa may make concessions to Tigray over its disputed boundary with Amhara region, the large area of fertile land that borders Sudan. Another flashpoint in Amhara is the dispute over boundaries with Oromo region and the rapid expansion of the capital Addis Ababa and the valuable land surrounding it (AC Vol 64 No 4, How the Wellega war threatens Abiy).



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