Brig. Gen Belay Seyoum Akele, who is appointed as the new Commander
of the Northern Command, cancelled his flight to Mekelle along with two others
Photo: UNISFA


By Siyanne Mekonnen @Siyaanne

Addis Abeba, October 31/2020 – Tensions between the federal and the Tigray Regional State governments have picked up a new twist following a decision by the later to return Brigadier General Jamal Mohammed from Mekelle Alula Abanega Airport.

Two days before the latest controversy, Getachew Reda, executive committee member of the TPLF, has already described the standoff between the regional and the federal governments saying “crisis is staring us in the eye.”

The restructuring will alleviate the number of the existing commands stationed in regional states from four to six, a plan shelved in Dec. 2018 by Lt. Gen. Molla Hailemariam, Chief of Ground Forces, when he was chief of ENDF special operations.

Brig. Gen. Jamal traveled to Tigray on October 29 after he has been appointed by the federal government as deputy head of the Northern Command of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), based in Mekelle. The news of the new appointments to lead ENDF’s northern command, which hasn’t yet been officially communicated by the federal government, came shortly after the announcement by Defense Force Chief of Staff General Adem Mohammed and Deputy Chief of Staff General Berhanu Jula on the establishment of two additional commands to be located in Addis Abeba and North -West Command to be located in Bahir Dar, in Amhara regional state.

Lt. Gen. Molla Hailemariam briefing the media on downsizing Commands from six to four. Picture: ENA

The restructuring will alleviate the number of the existing commands stationed in regional states from four to six, a plan shelved in Dec. 2018 and announced by Lt. Gen. Molla Hailemariam, Chief of Ground Forces, when he was ENDF’s Special Missions Commander. The downsizing of Commands from six to four was done to “reorganize the army into Navy Force, Air Force, Ground Force and Special missions’ Force”, Lt. Gen. Molla said at the time.

However, the latest announcement, hailed by Gen. Berhanu as done after “rigorous security reform over the past two years,” drew criticism from the government of Tigray regional state, which has already announced that it would not comply with laws, directives, and regulations to be enacted by the federal government after its current term in office came to an end on October 05/2020.

The statement issued by the regional government has categorically dismissed the decision and said it was “absolutely unacceptable and will never be implemented” by the regional state.

[The federal government] “outside of solutions put forth by Ethiopian political forces through dialogue, has no legal responsibility or power to make decisions regarding the reorganization and/or operations of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, any decisions made thus far are not acceptable and will not be implemented. Accordingly, it should be known that any decisions related to Tigray, such as operational decisions, leadership changes and command reorganizations and the movement of troops or armaments, are absolutely unacceptable and will never be implemented,” the statement said.

“Four military officials: Brig. Gen Belay Seyoum Akele, who is appointed as the new Commander of the Northern Command, and his other deputy, Brig. Gen. Seid Tekuye, as well as Lt. Gen. Molla HaileMariam, who was about to coordinate the hand over, were kindly informed by us to cancel their flights and they did”

Getachew Reda

According to BBC Tigrigna, Brig. Gen. Jamal was made to take his return ticket shortly after his arrival and the vehicle waiting to pick him from the airport was subsequently made to return back after.

Getachew Reda, TPLF’s Executive Committee member, told Addis Standard by phone from Mekelle that Tigray Regional State has “politely informed” in advance the newly appointed members of the army to not travel to the region. “Four military officials: Brig. Gen Belay Seyoum Akele, who is appointed as the new Commander of the Northern Command, and his other deputy, Brig. Gen. Seid Tekuye, as well as Lt. Gen. Molla HaileMariam, who was about to coordinate the hand over, were kindly informed by us to cancel their flights and they did,” Getachew said.

Getachew Reda, TPLF Executive Committee member (Picture: Tigray TV screenshot)

According to Getachew, “the unfortunate return of Brid. Gen. Jamal happened because we could not reach him since he came from the Eastern Command.”

The regional government recognizes only Gen. Diriba Mekonnen, Commander the Northern Command, before the appointment of Brig. Gen Belay Seyoum, Getachew said, adding the announcement, the third in just one year, was issued while Gen. Diriba was on a sick leave. “The incident was not personal and the move was made because accepting a new leadership for the command would not align with the regional state’s stand that it does not recognize the legitimacy of the federal government.”

According to him, the move by the regional government was not only opposing the appointment of the new general to lead the Northern Command but also against the federal government’s decision to relocate one mechanized force to the SNNPRS, and one ground force to western Oromia. Getachew describes the Northern Command as a command that has been insulated from participating in “the killing of civilians by the army like in the rest of the country, and Tigray regional government is actually doing the rest of the country a favor by blocking it from taking commands from the federal government.”

Last night a statement issued by the Ministry of Defense called Tigray’s statement “distorted” and criticized the regional government for restricting the army from “performing its duties”.

“…the body who published the statement [should] publicly correct the mistake.”

Ministry of Defense

The Ministry countered Tigray’s statement that the conditions for the national defense force to organize, deploy and supervise the armed forces “outside of solutions put forth by Ethiopian political forces through dialogue,” contravened Article 87 (5) of the Constitution which states that the function of the Defense Forces is free from political partisanship. It also dismissed as baseless the regional state’s accusations that the ENDF was “killing the people” and has turned a blind eye to activities endangering the sovereignty and national security of the country.

The deployment and mission of the army is not under the interest of any group and is bound by the constitution, the Ministry said and demanded “the body who published the statement to publicly correct the mistake.” Furthermore, the Ministry cautioned all parties to refrain from issuing statements and conveying unnecessary information that could impede the mission and operations of the federal army.

Locust Invasion and Safety Net 

The confrontation following the restructuring of the army comes in the heels of a cascade of other disagreements between Tigray and federal governments. Tigray accused the federal government of taking series of measures against it, including blocking the transfer of a chemical spraying drone bought and sent by Tigrayan and Eritrean nationals residing in Israel to help the region fight the ongoing desert locust invasion; terminating the federal budget subsidy to the region; and discontinuing the distribution of a fund amounting to 285 million ETB under the donors’ funded Safety Net program for the coming three months.

In a statement Tigray region issued on October 22, it said “halting the subsidy budget while the region is battling a locust invasion is tantamount to intentionally allowing the harvest that the people of Tigray have been cultivating for the past year to be devastated.”

The Ministry of Finance denies these accusations. Hajji Ibsa, Public Relation Officer at the Ministry of Finance told Addis Standard, that up to October 6, 2020 all kinds of budget were disbursed to all regional states including Tigray. “Safety Nets are sent out every quarter of each fiscal year, we need reports from every region for us to send them these safety nets. There are no questions that could be answered about these Safety Nets being sent,” he said.

Hajji Ibsa, Public Relation Officer at the Ministry of Finance. Picture: EBC

However, after October 6, the ministry plans to send the Safety Newt funds to identified Woredas and Kebeles “as we did before”, he said. “These Safety Nets are sent for the sake of the people not the regional state. The federal government promised it will abide by its duties to the people of Tigray as it did with the rest of the country,”

Similarly, Haji Ibsa announced that the ministry has prepared a subsidy budget transfer process for Woredas, cities and Kebeles in Tigray regional state and that there will be no direct budget to be disbursed through the executive bodies of the regional state. The plan will be delivered to the Council of Ministers for approval. However, Haji Ibsa did not give a timeline for the implementation of alternative subsidy budget disbursement.

Clean water and face masks

Tigray also accused the federal government of blocking two water experts from the Chinese company China Gezhouba Group Company Limited (CGGC), who were transiting through Bole international airport from arriving at Mekelle airport. According to the statement, the experts flew from China to work on a project handed over to CGGC by the Gereb Giba project, a project working to provide potable water to Mekelle city. The Tigray regional state called it an “ethnic based discrimination” and appealed to the international community to take measures against the federal government. This was followed by yet another accusation that the federal government has prohibited the supply of masks for students in Tigray region.

On Sports

Acts of alienating Tigray materialized after the Federal Sports Commission dispatched a letter requesting national sport associations and regional sport federations to cut ties with Tigray. The letter by the Commission written on October 19, 2020, states 20 federations and 8 associations, including the Ethiopian Olympic and Paralympic Committees to cut ties with the regional government.

The decision sparked social media uproar prompting the Federal Sports Commission to retract the statement in another letter written on October 21, 2020. The Sports Commission said the previous letter, which requested to cut relations had an “information gap” and the new letter states the need to strengthen people-to-people relations through sports. AS

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