Ethiopia Replaces Top Security Officials Amid Tigray Conflict

Politics News

Ethiopia’s army chief, head of intelligence and foreign minister have been sacked as fighting continues in the northern Tigray region.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has replaced senior officials amid Tigray conflict
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has replaced his foreign affairs minister, the head of intelligence and the army chief. No reason was given for the changes, which came several days after he ordered a military campaign in the Tigray region. (Photo: Gen. Birhanu Jula)


Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed reshuffled his country’s security services days after he ordered a military offensive in the northern Tigray region. The Prime Minister replaced the head of intelligence and the army chief, and appointed a new federal police commissioner. He also chose a new foreign minister.

The changes come a day after the parliament, in an emergency session, voted to dissolve the government of Tigray, saying it had “violated the constitution and endangered the constitutional system”.

“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.

The shake-up comes five days after PM Abiy launched a military operation in the Tigray region after accusing its leaders of orchestrating an attack on a military base and attempting to steal artillery and military equipment.

In the following days, Ethiopian fighter jets bombed targets in the restive region, with health workers reporting intense fighting, dozens of wounded and at least six dead.

The Tigray people make up 6 percent of Ethiopia’s estimated 110 million population. But for almost three decades, the group wielded outsize clout nationally to become the pre-eminent power broker in Ethiopia.

Relations between Tigray and Abiy’s government have been strained since the Prime Minister took office in 2018, but it hit a new low after the Tigray region held parliamentary elections in September, in defiance of the Federal government.

Soon after, 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.

Last Wednesday, PM Abiy ordered a military offensive after an army base in Mekelle was taken over by forces loyal to the Tigray regional government killing dozens of government soldiers.

The cabinet also declared a state of emergency in the northern region for six months.

Debretsion Gebremichael, the sacked Tigray region leader, has now called on the African Union to intervene to stop the country from spiralling into civil war.

In a televised statement, he said Tigray would continue to defend itself until the federal government agreed to negotiate.

The United Nations and other regional bodies have urged the warring parties to de-escalate the violence and find a peaceful resolution.

But PM Abiy has not heeded that yet, urging the international community on Sunday “to understand the context and the consistent transgressions by the TPLF clique that have led the Federal government to undertake this law enforcement operation.”

Diplomatic sources in Addis Ababa also said they expected the conflict to escalate in coming days as the government mobilizes troops around the country and moves them closer to the Tigray region.

* BBC News, Bloomberg and The New York Times have contributed to the story