Ethiopia glimpses civil war in Amhara region

The threat of civil war looms over Ethiopia.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
15 August 2023 Tuesday 22:24
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Ethiopia glimpses civil war in Amhara region

The threat of civil war looms over Ethiopia. The harsh clashes between the Ethiopian government and the Fano militias, which broke out on August 2 in the Amhara region, in the northwest of the country, and which trapped a group of Spanish tourists, draw a new armed conflict in the country, only nine months after the end of a devastating war in the neighboring Tigray region.

Far from maintaining calm, which the Ethiopian authorities considered restored last week after forcibly retaking several key cities in the region, the clashes have spread to other smaller towns in recent days. At least 26 people died and 55 were injured last Sunday in a drone attack in a central square in Finote Selam, local hospital workers and other testimonies assured international agencies. The Government has not confirmed the information.

The attack was directed against a truck with Fano militants, which was parked in a central square in the city, but the explosion came 20 minutes late and the vehicle was gone, witnesses told the BBC in its amhara edition. According to the doctors, many of the victims wore civilian clothes: "The victims ranged from 13-year-old children to the elderly."

A large number of the injured suffered amputations and some 40 were critical, for which reason hospital sources estimated a higher number of victims. From the center the hospital lamented the scarcity of resources to deal with the massacre due to a historical precariousness, but which has worsened with the road blockade.

Hours after the attack, on Monday afternoon, the Ethiopian army wrested control of the city from the Fanos, located 170 kilometers south of Bahir Dar, the regional capital.

"While intense fighting has subsided in major urban areas since August 9, it continues in other parts of the region," the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reported Monday. independent public. These combats are marked by "the use of heavy artillery, resulting in civilian deaths and injuries, as well as material damage," adds the organization, which expresses its "serious concern."

The Fano revolt, which means volunteer guerrillas, rose up against the Ethiopian army at the beginning of the month, but the situation had been heated since April, when the Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Abiy Ahmed, announced the integration of the special forces (groups paramilitaries linked to the regional government).

The gesture felt very badly for the Amharas, because both the Fanos and the special forces had fought side by side with the military against the Tigre People's Liberation Front (TPLF) during the war between 2020 and 2022. They refused to lay down their arms, considering that it would leave them defenseless against hostilities with the Oromo and Tigre rebels, their neighbors to the east and north, respectively.

Far from integrating into the army as Abiy ordered, many of the special forces fighters have deserted to join the Fanos. The rebels represent the discontent Amhara, the second largest ethnic group in Ethiopia (25% of Ethiopians) who feel forgotten and unprotected by the state. In June and July there were two attacks in the Oromia region, which resulted in a massacre of more than 300 men, women and children of the Amhara ethnic group, a minority in this Oromo-majority region. The passivity of the federal forces deployed on the ground fueled the theory that the government was behind the operation.

Judging by the events of the last two weeks, the Fano militias have gained strength, although they do not have a unified command structure. They attacked army bases, took control of important cities such as Lalibela (where they took over the airport), Bahir Dar, Gondar or Debre Birhan; they stormed police stations and a prison in the regional capital and freed thousands of fellow militiamen.

The impossibility of accessing the region makes it difficult to know the magnitude of the conflict, but only in the first days there had been at least 30 combats. Which led the federal government to declare a state of emergency on August 4, which was definitively approved by parliament on Monday.

The EHRC has reported cases of protesters being killed while trying to block roads, as well as extrajudicial arrests and killings. In the capital, Addis Ababa, "there have been mass arrests of civilians of Amhara ethnic origin," underlines the institution, including Christian Tadele, an opposition lawmaker and open critic of the government and its actions in the Amhara region. The campaign is reminiscent of the persecution Tigre citizens suffered at the start of the 20-month conflict. Likewise, the organization for the defense of human rights regrets not having access to the region due to the state of emergency.

The United States and other countries have called on all parties to resolve the crisis "in a peaceful manner" in a joint statement. Ethiopia, a vast country that has long been considered a security lynchpin in the Horn of Africa, is suffering from multiple crises: drought, the aftermath of the war in Tigrah, the recent arrival of refugees from the Sudan and, now, a conflict that the Amhara Association of America has described as "a genocidal war" against the Ethiopian Amhara.