Unrest spreading in eastern Ethiopia


Mobs looted shops and burned down properties in Ethiopia’s eastern Somali region as unrest gained momentum and spread across the province following deployment of soldiers, witnesses said.

On Friday Ethiopian troops entered regional capital Jijiga in an apparent attempt by central authorities to arrest regional officials, residents said. On Saturday soldiers traded fire with local government security forces.

Violence has since broken out in at least four towns, with mobs attacking civilians and looting property, witnesses said.
“Ethnic non-Somalis are being targeted. Security forces are collaborating with them,” one resident told Reuters.

At least two Ethiopian Orthodox churches were burned down, another witness said. Shops, hotels and banks remained closed, he added.

Residents in four other towns said gunshots were heard.

A third witness in Jijiga said government soldiers were deployed in the region’s administration offices with the intention of arresting officials.

It was not immediately clear why authorities in Addis Ababa sought to apprehend them.

Government officials in Addis Ababa and Jijiga were not immediately available for comment, but Ethiopia’s defence ministry confirmed the deployment of soldiers.
“The violence has not been halted despite attempts by defence forces and other security forces to restore calm,” the ministry said in a statement.
“Hence, as the region’s peace and security has come under threat, our defence forces will not remain silent in the face of unrest and chaos and will take necessary measures in accordance with constitutional obligations.”

The ministry did not give reasons for the deployment.

The province has been plagued by violence for the last three decades. The government has fought the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) since 1984 after the group launched a bid for secession of the region, also known as Ogaden.

Since 2017, clashes along the Somali region’s border with Oromiya province have displaced tens of thousands of people.

The region’s officials were recently accused by government in Addis Ababa of perpetrating rights abuses. Last month, Ethiopia fired senior prison officials there after details emerged of torture and other abuses in one notorious prison.

In a statement, the ONLF criticised the, saying government ordered its military “to attack and take over the Somali regional administration … creating chaos and uncertainty”.

The “ONLF calls on the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia to halt immediately any military activities and initiate a peaceful process,” it added, referring to Abiy Ahmed, who took office in April.