Is Ethiopia on the Brink of a New War?

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Barely a year after the Tigray war ended with a peace agreement, militia fighting is now raging in the Amhara region. Experts warn that this could lead to a new war.

The situation in Ethiopia is becoming increasingly dangerous. That’s according to Yared Hailemariam, the director of the Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Center when asked to assess the situation on the ground. The northern Amhara region is considered particularly volatile.

“Most of us expected that the peace agreement (in early November 2022) would resolve the political tensions and conflict in Tigray,” Hailemariam told DW from Brussels. He believes the Ethiopian government under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made mistakes during the negotiation.

Conflict parties excluded

“The Pretoria agreement invites a new conflict in the Amhara region because from the very beginning the Amhara armed group — particularly the Fano and Amhara elites — were demanding their participation and for this engagement during the Pretoria peace negotiations,” Hailemariam further explains.

“But the negotiations were only between the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) and the Ethiopian government, and excluded other parties to the conflict who were actively involved in the two-year war.”

According to Hailemariam, one of the clauses in the peace agreement states that the TPLF special forces and Tigray forces must completely disarm. However, this clause was not fully followed through. This triggered the most recent conflict in the neighboring Amhara region.

Fighting for people’s liberation

The ethno-nationalist Amhara youth militia, Fano — also based in the Amhara region — has announced that it has not been defeated in its battle with the Ethiopian National Defense Force.

A spokesperson for Fano, who wishes to remain anonymous, told DW that his group wants to overthrow Abiy’s government through an armed struggle and ultimately hand over power to the Ethiopian people.

“When justice is violated in Amhara society when freedom is trampled on, Fano fights for the liberation of the people and the country,” he said.

He added that Abiy runs a “fascist regime” which has “spread corruption and ethnic extremism throughout the country.” The Amhara people have called on the government to engage in a dialogue towards peace.

Smoldering conflict in Amhara

For months now, there has been ongoing unrest in Amhara, which borders Tigray to the south. The initial violence was triggered back in April by an announcement from the federal government in Addis Ababa that it would disband the states’ regional armies, which effectively represent Ethiopia’s various ethnic groups.

Amhara nationalists viewed the announcement as a threat and a sign of the government’s potential vulnerability in border disputes with Tigray. They took up arms and Abiy eventually declared a state of emergency in August in response.

Hailemariam says the government has since failed to open the door to talks and negotiations, leaving crushing the Amhara group by force as the only remaining option. However, he added, the resistance of the Amhara group was greater than the government expected.

‘Genocide in Ethiopia’

Yirga Gelaw Woldeyes, a lecturer and researcher at the Center for Human Rights Education at Curtin University in Western Australia, goes one step further: “I believe there is a genocide happening in Ethiopia and the world is not talking about it,” he told DW.

Most of the violence is taking place in Amhara itself, he adds, where the six-month state of emergency is currently still in effect.

“The government has shut down all internet access to the area and we are hearing stories about extrajudicial killings, the use of drones, and attacks on innocent civilians,” Woldeyes explained.

In a statement released last Friday, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said it had received information from witnesses, residents and victims’ families of “extra-judicial killings committed by government security forces in various parts of the region” which it described as “very concerning.”

The state-backed but independent agency said “many civilians” had been killed and injured and property destroyed in the fighting in cities, towns and some rural villages across Amhara.

It also said there had been widespread “arbitrary arrests,” not only in Amhara but the neighboring region of Oromia and the capital Addis Ababa.

The government relies on the use of military force to solve political problems in the region, Hailemariam said. That, he explained, was crucial to this conflict, as well as the previous one that resulted in war.

If the government and the other parties to the conflict fail to sit down and resolve their political disputes peacefully, it could spark a new conflict, Hailemariam says. And Ethiopia could be stuck in another round of inter-ethnic conflict for a long time to come. (MARTINA SCHWIKOWSKI | DW)