What has sparked clashes in Ethiopia’s Amhara region?

What has sparked clashes in Ethiopia’s Amhara region?

Months after end of devastating Tigray conflict, militiamen and the army are fighting in Ethiopia’s second-largest region

By Hassan Isilow

JOHANNESBURG (AA) – For weeks now, heavy clashes have been raging in Amhara, a vitally important region that is also the second-biggest in Ethiopia.

The new conflict comes barely nine months after the end of two years of devastating fighting in the northern Tigray region.

The fighting this time is between the Ethiopian army and a militia group known as the Fano, which supported the government in its battle against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Tensions started rising after the federal government announced that it intends to dismantle security forces in Ethiopia’s 11 regions and integrate them into the army.

That sparked violent protests in a region which is home to Ethiopia’s second-largest ethnic group, the Amhara.

Clashes have intensified this month and there are reports of dozens of casualties, while the government said it has lost control of some areas to the Fano.

The African Union has also sensed the danger of the fighting spiraling into a larger conflict, calling for an immediate end to hostilities.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the bloc’s chairperson, issued a statement stressing the need for de-escalation and peaceful dialogue, while also expressing his willingness to facilitate talks.

For now, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Ethiopian government seem inclined toward a military solution.

Abiy has declared a six-month state of emergency in Amhara, saying that attacks by “armed extremist groups” were endangering public security and causing significant economic damage.

- Why are the Fano against integration?

There is a belief among the Fano that the government wants to take away their weapons and leave them vulnerable to other hostile groups, according to Hassan Khannenje, director of the Horn International Institute for Strategic Studies, a think tank based in Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

“The Amhara militia fought alongside the government against the TPLF, and they managed to get a lot of land and expanded their reach beyond their traditional borders,” he told Anadolu.

“So they fear that the current relations between the TPLF and government might work to disadvantage them, not only in terms of economy but also security.”

Khannenje said the federal government’s objective is to have a united centralized army.

“You cannot have mini-armies within one country. It has never worked historically, unless that region is close to being autonomous or semi-independent,” he said.

The priority for the federal government is to make sure that local militias do not turn into another rebel movement that will destabilize Ethiopia’s efforts to rebuild and recover, he added.

- Amhara feels left out

Khannenje said the conflict is rooted in the terms of the peace agreement signed by the government and the TPLF, particularly because the Fano and people in Amhara feel they were excluded in the November 2022 deal.

Over the course of the two-year conflict, which claimed thousands of lives and displaced millions, militias from Amhara took control of swathes of territory in Tigray, which they claimed belonged to them historically.

Tigrayans, however, argue that the land is disputed and home to both ethnic groups.

“The militia in the Amhara region feel there were not exactly included in the terms and, therefore, there is fear that they are going to be excluded in future engagements as well, especially in the political process in Ethiopia,” Khannenje said.

“On the one hand, Amhara and Amhara militias are seeking to redefine their interests but also reassert their relative independence from the center. At the same time, the government is seeking to restore control over all of Ethiopia.”

The Fano, though, feel integration will make them vulnerable, “because when you’re integrated, you no longer have autonomous structures of control,” he added.

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