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 Analysis: Ethiopia begins “practical activities” to dissolve, reenlist controversial regional special forces, cautions actors not to imped move  

Special forces of Oromia (top left), Amhara (right) and Somali (bottom left) regional states. Photos: Social Media/State media

Addis Abeba- The federal government has announced last night that it has started taking “practical activities” to dissolve the controversial regional state special forces following a decision that put “direction to build a strong centralized army that can protect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” 

Accordingly, the federal government said it has started to dissolve the special forces of each region and “allow them to join various security structures.”

The announcement by the federal government came after days of intense criticisms – especially by Amhara activists and political elite- accusing the government of hatching a plan to disarm Amhara special forces in order to hand over the occupied western Tigray and parts of southern Tigray, which are under the control of Amhara forces, to Tigray.

However, the statement from the government said that “members of special forces in all regions can join the defense, federal police or regional police forces as per their choices and needs”. It also countered reports that the measures were limited to disarming the Amhara region special forces alone and said that a “consensus was reached with the leaders and members of the Special Forces” after it was “studied by the leaders of all the regions….the decision was agreed upon without any differences. Following this, practical activities have been started.”

Special police forces have become deeply involved in Ethiopia’s interregional conflicts and border disputes, most notably in the current conflict in Tigray

EPI

The establishment more than 15 years ago of regional special forces first in the Somali regional state is believed to be extra-constitutional, and their continued presence and involvements in some of the most controversial interregional confrontations and regional security crackdowns were a subject of years long criticism in the Ethiopian political space.

“The role and status of special police forces in Ethiopia remain contested. Resembling paramilitary forces, the regional special police units are well armed and receive military training. They are rapidly growing in size and have successfully recruited senior (former) army officers into their ranks. Special police forces have become deeply involved in Ethiopia’s interregional conflicts and border disputes, most notably in the current conflict in Tigray. They have even been involved in international operations in Somalia and Sudan and internal coup attempts. They have also been linked to severe human rights abuses,” said a research paper published by the European Institute of Peace in 2021.

The government said that its decision to dissolve and include regional special forces into various security structures and activities were based on research and the approach is believed to be useful to improve “the training, armament and living conditions of our army by mobilizing our economic potential, the statement further said. “Understanding this, the process is being carried out through communication and discussion in all regions.”

However, without mentioning specifics, the government said that “certain special forces units in the Amhara region” have been “deliberately disrupting the process,” it and blamed its charges on “promoters of the agenda of destruction” who it accused of spreading “false rumours” by “not properly understanding the reorganization work and purpose.”

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In a statement it issued earlier yesterday, the opposition National Movement of Amhara (NaMA) accused the ruling party of carrying out activities to “compulsorily disarm” the special forces of the Amhara region. In the same statement, the party also said it understood that the ruling party had “created a lot of tension between the special forces of the region and the federal security institutions” in different areas of the Amhara region. It further said that the government’s decision to “suddenly and inadequately destroy the security guarantee” of the region without mutual understanding and trust, and its actions to implement the decision are “irresponsible” and “creating great instability in the region and the country, and the move is a “dangerous approach that will push the region and the country into another cycle of crisis.”

On the same day Thursday, reports from various media quoted drivers and other eyewitnesses as saying that vehicles were blocked for two about hours on the main road from Amhara region’s capital city Bahir Dar to Gonder in Amhara region on Thursday. Deutsche Welle reported that that gunshots were heard in a town of Gobye in North Wollo Zone. However, two hours later, drivers were able to pass in both directions while showing identification during searches. Neither federal nor regional authorities issued a statement on the reported incident. 

The federal government on the other hand blamed that among the false propaganda that are circulating is “the reorganization program is being carried out only in the Amhara region” and that the region’s special forces are being disarmed without disarming TPLF forces first. “These agendas are being pushed by forces that want to disrupt the process,” it said. 

A program to integrate members of the regional special forces into other security structures is being implemented across the country, the government said, and added that “the work is being carried out in all regions at the same time.” 

During the process members of the National Defense Forces have “been deployed in all areas to ensure safe peace and security in the regions.” 

The federal government further pushed back against critiques saying that Tigrayan forces were “being completely disarmed according to the Pretoria Agreement” and that “the process of disarmament…will be carried out without hesitation according to the signed agreement, and will not be coordinated or contradicted with any other national plan.” 

The Declaration on the Modalities for the Implementation of the Pretoria agreement signed in Nairobi on 12 November 2022 on the “Disarmament of Tigray armed combatants,” stated that “disarmament of heavy weapons will be done concurrently with the withdrawal of foreign and non-ENDF forces from the region.”

The declaration further stipulates that, upon disengagement, the federal authorities shall assume federal responsibilities in accordance with the Constitution for all areas including the resumption of services.

Regional special forces have been on the side of the federal forces during the two years atrocious war in the Tigray region that has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.

The main objective of dissolving regional special forces “is not to disarm any particular force” it said, rather to enable them to join the regional and federal police or the national defense forces “according to their choices.”

If there is any member of the special forces who does not want to be included in this process, the government will do the necessary rehabilitation work to enable them join a “normal civilian life,” the statement said. 

The government cautioned Ethiopians “as well as the leaders and members of the regional special forces to work together for the success of the program by staying away from misleading information by…promoters of destructive agenda”. AS 

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