Clashes between regional Special Forces and a minority ethnic group killed at least 20 people in Ethiopia’s northern state Amhara, a local political official said.
The clashes are another headache for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose political and economic reforms have emboldened powerful men building ethnic powerbases.
Amhara, Ethiopia’s second-most populous province, is a flashpoint for tensions following violence that killed dozens, including the region’s president, in June. The federal government described that as a coup led by a rogue state militia leader.
The latest clashes erupted last Friday, when armed men killed 10 people when they ambushed a minibus travelling to Gondar in northern Amhara, Desalegn Chane, president of the new National Movement of Amhara (NAMA) party, told Reuters.
The next day, 12 soldiers were killed when convoys transporting Amhara Special Forces were attacked, he said.
Chane linked the violence to the Kimant Committee, a group of local leaders campaigning for self-determination for the Kimant people, an Amhara region ethnic sub-group.
“On Friday a minibus travelling from Metema to Gondar was ambushed by the Kimant Committee. Everyone was killed, 10 civilian casualties,” he said.
Fekadu Mamo, chairman of the committee, disputed the accusations, saying individual members of the community were fighting back in self-defence after being targeted by the militias.
A resident of Gondar, who asked not to be identified, said he saw the bodies of 17 militia members and hotels believed to belong to the Kimant Committee destroyed.
The US Embassy in Addis Ababa issued a security alert on Thursday, saying it received reports of gunfire, roadblocks and destruction of property in Gondar and the wider Amhara region.
“US government personnel deferred all travel to the region due to unrest and violence,” it said in a statement.
Ethnic violence spiked since Abiy came to power in 2018. He unbanned political parties and released political prisoners and saw a resurgence of violence fuelled by local powerbrokers demanding more power and resources for their own groups.
Ethiopia’s federal constitution allows ethnic groups to demand referendums on own states, which gives them greater control over security forces and revenues.