Ethiopia’s justice minister warns of existential threat to the country

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Wednesday pledged to bury his government’s enemies “with our blood” as he marked the start of the war in the Tigray region one year ago.        

Abiy was speaking a day after a state of emergency was declared in the country and with Tigrayan forces threatening to advance on the capital.

“We will bury this enemy with our blood and bones and make the glory of Ethiopia high again,” the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner said.

“The pit which is dug will be very deep, it will be where the enemy is buried, not where Ethiopia disintegrates,” he said in a speech at an event at the military’s headquarters in Addis Ababa.

A moment of silence was observed at the candlelit ceremony to commemorate those killed on November 3, 2020 when forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) — including some soldiers — seized military bases in Tigray. In response, Abiy sent more troops to the northern region.

The TPLF led Ethiopia’s ruling coalition for nearly 30 years but lost control when Abiy took office in 2018 after years of antigovernment protests. Relations with the TPLF soured after they accused him of centralizing power at the expense of Ethiopia’s regional states, an accusation Abiy denies.

The conflict has killed thousands of people, forced more than 2-million more from their homes, and left 400,000 people in Tigray facing famine. As fighting has spread into two other Ethiopian regions, it has also destabilized Africa’s second most populous nation, a country of more than 110-million people that was considered a stable Western ally in a volatile region.

The government imposed a state of emergency on Monday with immediate effect. The order came after the TPLF claimed to have captured several towns in recent days and said it might march on Addis Ababa, about 380km to the south of their forward positions.

Arbitrarily arrest

The six-month state of emergency enables the government to order citizens of age to undergo military training and accept military duty. It also allows authorities to arbitrarily arrest anyone suspected of collaborating with “terrorist groups” with a court order and detain them for the duration of the state of emergency, according to the proclamation.

The government designated the TPLF a terrorist group in May.

After the state of emergency was announced, there were scattered reports of arrests of ethnic Tigrayans in the capital. A woman at a private health clinic in the city said  she had seen four doctors and one nurse, all ethnic Tigrayans, taken away by the police on Tuesday evening.

A joint investigation by the UN and Ethiopia published on Wednesday found that all sides fighting in the war had committed violations that may amount to war crimes. Also on Wednesday, Ethiopia’s sovereign dollar bond dropped to a record low after the US government said it planned to cut off the country from duty-free access to the US.

A resident said he saw police in the central Bole district randomly stopping people on the street and asking them to show their government IDs, which list ethnic identity. “I saw three people arrested,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.


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