Powerful Ethiopian party accuses government of ethnic crackdown

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ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – A powerful party in Ethiopia’s government accused authorities of arresting members of its ethnic group in a politically-driven crackdown – an unprecedented public charge exposing deep rifts at the heart of the ruling elite.

The accusation marked growing tensions between elements in the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – a movement that has dominated Ethiopia for decades – and new reformist prime minister Abiy Ahmed who has upended politics with a string of radical reforms.

At least 79 security officers, officials, businessmen and women, many of them Tigrayan, have been arrested since last week – under what the government said was a clamp-down on corruption and mistreatment of prisoners.

Amnesty International and other rights groups have welcomed the arrests. But TPLF chair Debretsion Gebremichael said on Monday the arrests ordered under “the pretext of corruption and human rights are being used to attack Tigrayans”.

The prime minister’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Debretsion’s remarks.

Abiy’s rise – as Ethiopia’s first leader from the majority Oromo group – had transformed decades-old hierarchies in the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition that was founded by the TPLF and came to power in 1991.

Soon after Abiy was inaugurated in April, he made peace with long-time foe Eritrea and started pushing reforms he said were meant to rein in the military and security services and limit their involvement in the economy – changes that have been largely welcomed by Western powers.

The TPLF’s Debretsion did not spell out who he thought was behind the arrests, that were announced by the government’s attorney general. “There is a foreign involvement in the process. Thus, it is unacceptable,” he said, without giving further details.

Debretsion picked out last week’s arrest of Kinfe Dagnew, a Tigrayan major general in the army and former chief executive of the METEC military-led conglomerate.

“While Kinfe was arrested peacefully, they tied him handcuffs. This is a political attack,” Debretsion told a news conference.

“While they should have gone after an individual, they went after an ethnic group and a party,” he said in comments aired by Dimtsi Woyane TV.

Kinfe and others appeared in court but have not been charged or entered any pleas. There have been no statements from them or lawyers representing them.


1 Comment

  1. I feel that Reuters should have qualified the title of this news by calling TPLF “once” powerful party. TPLF is no more powerful. That’s not because TPLF’s allies in EPRDF came on top of TPLF but because TPLF has become equal to the others which it appears to resent deeply.

    I believe the signs of TPLF’s resentment are everywhere to see. Take Reuters’ report for example which highlights accusations TPLF throws around often without providing proof to support them. Reuters rightly called the accusations unprecedented mainly because of their seriousness. There are two of them: foreign involvement and targeting Tigreans.

    TPLF’s first accusation is “there is a foreign involvement in the process” (which is the clamp-down on corruption and mistreatment of prisoners). The question is can TPLF produce proof on the accusation, say, by putting forward a name (or names) of someone who can testify the existence of foreign involvement, or provide a video or audio clip showing involvement or even indirect proof to confirm the accusation? We hope such a proof will be released to the public soon. If this does not happen, it will be fair to assume that the accusation was the usual political ploy designed by TPLF to rally Tigreans behind it under false accusations. TPLF! Show the proof or your reputation will be on the line.

    I assume the so called “foreign involvement” implies Eritrea’s engagement with Ethiopia which TPLF was not courageous enough to call it by name. Picking a fight with Eritrea by provoking its leadership to a duel will not be fun. The boundary issue was and still is a burden imposed on Ethiopians by TPLF which the Ethiopian government will not defend any more if Eritrea wants Tigray to recover its land. For the Ethiopian government boundary issues are settled and it is for Tigray to comply; reasonable if Eritrea expects the same as well.

    It is true that the recent agreements between Ethiopia and Eritrea include cooperation in political, security and defense matters. Naturally, this might make TPLF nervous and even feel squeezed by its former allies in EPRDF and Eritrea at the same time. As I said above, it makes sense if both Ethiopia and Eritrea considers TPLF an obstacle to wind-up outstanding boundary issues.

    Now, TPLF without adequate reflection and care seems to have opened bogus war at two fronts (against EPRDF on one hand and Eritrea on the other) which might easily undo it as a party. Obviously TPLF’s calculus is to claim that Tigreans are victimized by two governments and rally them for confrontation that will ruin their lives. This is against Tigrean interest which they have both in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

    I don’t expect it to happen, but one word from the Ethiopian government (based on the agreement) might be enough to expose Tigray for Eritrean invasion to recover its rightful land from Tigray. Again, as I said above, Ethiopians will no more give their lives for illegally occupied lands for a second time. If Tigrens want war, let them try it.

    As for Tigreans being targeted as ethnic group, TPLF has to show some proof beyond political talk. I mean not just giving the number of Tigreans under arrest, but also that they are clearly targeted as ethnic group. If we see some proof on this matter, we’ll support you and take your case to international level. Otherwise, making alarming statements without proof will eventually undermine the credibility of those who made them.

    I honestly believe TPLF is gambling with the likelihood to lose! If it wants to preserve its legacy (if any in the first palce), it should smarten up before it is too late and replace its leadership by reform minded people. It can begin this process by pushing reformists forward from its members or from non-members as well exactly the way OPDO (now ODP) did some months ago.

    TPLF! Smarten up!

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