Ethiopian party to delay formation of breakaway region

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) – An Ethiopian political party pushing for the creation of a breakaway region said yesterday it was prepared to go along with new plans for a referendum announced by electoral officials.

Leaders of the Sidama ethnic group in southern Ethiopia had planned to unilaterally declare their own Federal state yesterday – a move analysts warned could inflame Ethiopia’s political crisis and lead to bloodshed.

At present, Ethiopia is partitioned into nine semi-autonomous regions. The constitution requires the government to organise a referendum for any ethnic group that wants to form a new entity within a year of them requesting it.

The Sidama have agitated for years to leave the diverse Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region of which they are a part, and create their own state.

The group – the largest in the state – said the deadline for the referendum was yesterday.

However Ethiopia’s election board said this week it would hold a referendum before the end of the year. It said it had not received the referendum request until November 2018, meaning it still had several months to hold the vote.

Though the Sidama Liberation Movement political party earlier said a referendum held after July would be unacceptable, spokesman Desalegne Mesa told AFP yesterday that the party would accept the new timeline in the interest of peace.

A young man holds a t-shirt reading ‘Sidama National Regional State’ as young people of the Sidama ethnic group, the largest in southern Ethiopia, celebrate at Hawassa city over plans by local elders to declare the establishment of a breakaway region for the Sidama later this week, in Awasa. – AFP