News Update: Heavy artillery fired in Kobo as protests engulf Amhara region following decision to dissolve regional special forces

Members of the Amhara Special Forces during this year’s celebration of Adwa Victory (Photo: Amhara Police Commission/Facebook)

Addis Abeba – The security situation in Amhara region is changing fast as civilians in various cities of the region staged protests against the government’s “practical activities” to dissolve the controversial regional state special forces and “reorganize” them into regular regional and federal police as well as the national army. 

Clashes broke out between government security forces and civilians as well as between members of the regional special forces and the national army in some cities according to residents.

Residents in Kobo town in the North Wollo zone of Amhara region told Addis Standard that the sound of artilleries was heard in the town on Sunday night. Reuters news agency reported that members of the Amhara special forces had fired their weapons into the sky all night in defiance of the decision following massive protests on Sunday in the city of Gondar.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the opposition National Movement of Amhara (NaMA) also claimed that the use of heavy weapons was observed in Raya Kobo and urged that it should stop right away.

According to Reuters, protests were held in at least seven major cities of the region including the capital Bahir Dar, Gondar, Dessie, Woldia etc. Many city entrances and exits were blocked in addition to the demonstrations.

Following the massive protests in Gondar, the security command post office of the city imposed 12 different restrictions including a ban on bars and nightclubs which prohibited serving customers after 9: 00 PM local time.

It also prohibited three-wheel vehicles commonly called Bajaj from providing transportation services in the city from 2:00 PM to 6:00 AM local time.

Other restrictions include carrying firearms outside of authorized government security forces, including silent instruments with sharp edges such as knives and spears.

Obstructing the law enforcement mission of security forces by covering up for suspects, concealing, and giving false information is another prohibition announced by the command office.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) stated yesterday that the reorganization of the regional special forces will be implemented at any cost, expressing his firm stance, despite the fact that protests are currently being held in many cities of the Amhara region in opposition to the federal government’s decision.

Yelikal Kefale (PhD), president of Amhara Regional State also announced that the decision was made with the support of the federal and regional administrations and will be carried out across all regions; “There was no explicit decision to disarm and disband the special forces in the Amhara region.”

On April 7, the Amhara regional state government, following a statement issued to reorganize regional Special Forces, called on members of the regional special forces “to return to their respective camps or assigned workplaces and remain calm” while the ongoing “reorganization” works of regional special forces continues to take place.

The statement was issued following reports of discontent among the Amhara region special forces after the plan to reorganize regional special forces into regular police and the national army was unveiled. 

The statement assured that the Amhara regional state government “will not implement any decision that violates the rights and interests of the people of the region” and urged the people of the region to “stay away” from the campaign of “false allegations” which is “practically disturbing our people and and our special forces members.”

Two days ago, General Abebaw Tadesse, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), said that the decision was neither “to disarm”, nor “to dismantle” them; however “to reorganize” and “to reform” the forces as a “matter of the constitution”, noting that the work has been in the making for the last four years.

How the opposition reacted …

Following the announcement of the decision last week, two political parties, NaMA and Balderas, announced that they would stand against it. The statement released by NaMA urged the ruling party to immediately reverse the decision and consult with the government and people of the Amhara region.

The party noted that the sudden and inadequate security guarantee would make the region’s at-risk areas vulnerable to direct attack. It also encouraged the decision to be changed in a way that guarantees the region’s as well as the nation’s long-term peace.

Balderas for True Democracy, in its statement, asserted that the action is unacceptable given the timing and the current situation in the region despite the fact that dissolving local special forces into a centralized defensive army is recommended.

“Balderas strongly encourages the Amhara regional administration to uphold its duty and reject the implementation of the decision to disarm the Amhara special forces that puts the Amhara people in danger,” reads the statement.

Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice (Ezema), however, showed its support for the federal government’s move, calling it “acceptable action” except for the delay in its implementation; “There should be no question about its appropriateness.” AS

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