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News: Heavy fighting near Debre Birhan as violence continues to rock Amhara region, more cities impose restrictions

Debre Birhan city, 120 kilometers North East of Addis Abeba (Photo: Debre Birhan city Communication Affairs Office)

Addis Abeba – Several cities in the Amhara region, including the capital Bahir Dar, have continued to witness violence on Tuesday following protests against the government’s move to disband the regional special forces and “reorganize” them into regular police and the national army.

Addis Standard has talked to eyewitnesses from Debre Birhan, Bahir Dar, and Kombolcha cities where clashes between civilians and members of the national defense forces (ENDF) as well as between the Amhara regional special forces and the army were reported.

According to an eyewitness who talked to Addis Standard on conditions of anonymity, there was heavy fighting between the ENDF and members of the Amhara regional forces from early morning to late afternoon on Tuesday in Debre Birhan city, about 120 kilometers North East of Addis Abeba.

“The situation has gotten worse; the people are currently in a serious state of tension,” the eyewitness, who is a resident of the city, said. He fears that several people may have been killed and wounded during the fighting.  

Residents from Bahir Dar and Kombolcha have also confirmed to Addis Standard that there were massive protests in the cities accompanied by gunshots in both cities on Tuesday.

On Monday night three people were killed and 10 others were injured after a grenade exploded in a restaurant in Bahir Dar according to the VOA.

Following the footsteps of the city of Gondar, Bahir Dar, Debre Birhan, Dessie and Woldiya city administrations have imposed restrictions on movements and gathering of people as well as carrying weapons outside the authorized government security forces. 

Similar restrictions have also been imposed in the Oromo special zone, in the Amhara region where fighting has also been reported.

In a statement it issued for the fifth time since the protests erupted in the Amhara region in connection with the decision to abolish the regional special forces, the National Movement of Amhara (NaMA) reiterated its call for the federal government to relapse the decision saying that it is unconstitutional and intended only to disband the Amhara region special forces.

NaMA said the decision to dismantle the special force of the Amhara region and the way the decision is being implemented has caused the current instability and breach of security in the Amhara region and has made the people and the region vulnerable to violence and instability. 

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Background

Protests erupted in the Amhara region following announcement by the federal government on 06 April that “practical activities” have been started 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 protesting the decision as well as between members of the regional special forces and the national army in some cities the following days.

On Monday, 10 April, residents in Kobo town in the North Wollo zone of Amhara region told Addis Standard that the sound of heavy artillery 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 which later imposed restrictions on movements and carrying firearms.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) stated on Sunday 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.”

On the same day, 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. AS

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