Ethiopia’s government declared a six-month state of emergency on Friday in the country’s second-largest region, Amhara, following days of clashes between the military and local Fano militiamen, giving it powers to impose curfews, restrict movement, and ban gatherings.
The fighting that broke out earlier this week has quickly become Ethiopia’s most serious security crisis since a two-year civil war in Tigray region, which neighbours Amhara, ended in November.
Amhara’s regional government requested additional help from federal authorities on Thursday to reimpose order. It was found necessary to declare a state of emergency as it had become difficult to control this outrageous activity based on the regular legal system,” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office said in a statement.
The unrest is the latest spasm of violence to hit the country, the second most populous in Africa after Nigeria, since Abiy took office in 2018. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his peacemaking efforts with Eritrea.
Friday’s order gave the government powers to impose curfews, restrict movement, ban the carrying of guns and other sharp objects, ban public gatherings, and to make arrests and conduct searches without warrants.
The government could also close or limit the movements of media outlets it deems to be operating contrary to the emergency orders, the Government Communication Service said in a posting on the messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter. The orders applied to Amhara for now, but could be imposed in other areas if needed, the government said.
Fano, a part-time militia that draws volunteers from the local population, was a key ally of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) during the Tigray war.
But the relationship has soured, in part over recent efforts by federal authorities to weaken regional paramilitary groups. Some activists say this has left Amhara vulnerable to attack by neighbouring regions.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke of progress in implementing the cease fire in the north but expressed concern about the situation in Amhara and Oromo regions in a call with Abiy on Friday, the State Department said.
They discussed establishing a humanitarian aid distribution system with strengthened oversight to allow food aid to resume, it said. Concerns that food was being diverted prompted the United States to suspend such aid to Ethiopia in June.
Two residents of Amhara’s second-biggest city, Gondar, said on Friday that intense fighting took place the previous day near the university.
“ENDF first controlled the university, but they were pushed back by Fano. They were trying to advance to the centre of the city, but they couldn’t,” said one resident.
The other, a local official, said the military had pulled back from the university but did not say why. Both asked not to be named for security reasons.
A Fano member, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the militiamen were trying to encircle Amhara’s capital Bahir Dar. He said they had captured Merawi, a town 30 km (18 miles) south of Bahir Dar.
Reuters could not independently confirm his claims. An ENDF spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
However, Education Minister Berhanu Nega told a news conference that 16,000 students in Gondar were unable to do their leaving exams on Thursday. Mobile internet remained down in the region, residents said. Ethiopian Airlines cancelled flights to three of the four airports it flies to in Amhara, an airline spokesperson said.
Violent protests erupted across Amhara in April after Abiy ordered that security forces from Ethiopia’s 11 regions be integrated into the police or national army. Protesters said the order was meant to weaken Amhara. The federal government denied this and said the objective was ensuring national unity.
Since coming to power, Abiy has tried to centralise power in a country whose regions each have a measure of autonomy.
The war in Tigray was rooted in tensions between regional and federal authority as well as old grievances between ethnic groups. Tens of thousands of people were killed and millions forced from their homes before a truce was signed.
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