By Simon Marks and Samuel Gebre
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia replaced his military chief and reshuffled the leadership of other security branches as the death toll mounted from a conflict between the federal government and the northern state of Tigray.
“It is a leadership shuffle aimed at enabling the government to carry out the rule of law enforcement efforts started by strengthening the country’s security and foreign affairs,” said Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for the prime minister.
General Birhanu Jula, the No. 2 military official, was appointed chief of staff instead of General Adem Mohammed. Veteran Foreign Affairs Minister Gedu Andargachew was named national security adviser, and his job was handed to Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen.
The former president of Amhara Regional State, Temesgen Tiruneh, was appointed head of the National Intelligence and Security Service, replacing Demelash Gebremichael, who was named commissioner of the federal police.
Relations between Tigray and Abiy’s government have been strained since the president took office in 2018 and sidelined the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, once the pre-eminent power broker in Ethiopia. Last month, the federal parliament ordered the Treasury to halt direct budgetary support to the Tigrayan administration for defying an order to postpone regional elections.
Tigray’s leaders said the withholding of funding was unconstitutional and tantamount to a declaration of war. Accusing the Tigray government of attacking an army base to steal equipment, Abiy ordered the military to strike back. On Friday, the government placed the Tigray region under a six-month state of emergency.
Heavy fighting between the army and forces loyal to the TPLF claimed dozens of lives over the past week, according to two foreign diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity as they’re not authorized to speak to the media. The hostilities have sparked fears of a civil war that could roil the entire Horn of Africa.
Abiy on Sunday accused the TPLF of financing and arming anti-government militia forces throughout the country and revived the allegation about the attack on the Northern Command base, which houses the vast majority of the country’s heavy armaments and personnel. The TPLF has denied the accusation and says no evidence has been provided to back it up.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Sunday issued strongly worded statement Titled, “Putting an End to Impunity: The Case for Enforcing Federal Laws in Tigray”-
“They sponsored, trained and equipped any force that was willing to engage in violent and illegal acts to derail the transition,” Abiy said in a video posted online on Sunday. “Their objective was clearly to make the country ungovernable by instigating clashes along ethnic and religious lines; to sow division and discord so that the democratic transition will lose its momentum.”
Ethiopia, which is divided into 10 ethnically based and politically autonomous regions, has seen sporadic conflict since Abiy took power in 2018 and began opening up the country’s once-tightly regulated political space. He welcomed rebel groups and opposition members and released hundreds of political prisoners, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.
But violence increased in recent months following the killing of Hachalu Hundessa, a songwriter and activist from the Oromia region, the nation’s largest and most populous, and home to the capital, Addis Ababa.