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Ethiopia’s mass arrests show rift with former Amhara allies

NAIROBI, KENYA (AP) – Once a key ally of Ethiopia’s federal government in its deadly war in the country’s northern Tigray region, the neighbouring Amhara region is now experiencing government-led mass arrests and disappearances of activists, journalists and other perceived critics.

More than 4,500 people have been arrested in the Amhara region as of May 23, according to officials, but some activists said the real figure could be much higher. They accuse Ethiopia’s government of targetting ethnic Amhara people it considers a threat to its authority as it tries to move on from the Tigray crisis.

The arrests are the latest sign that the federal government of Ethiopia – Africa’s second-most populous country with 115 million people – is struggling to centralise its authority among scores of ethnic groups.

The Amhara are the second-largest ethnic group and, along with Tigrayans, the source of many of the country’s leaders – and critics, especially after frustration grew during the war when Tigray forces invaded the Amhara region and attacked civilians.

The federal government’s arrests among the Amhara are “a pre-emptive action to consolidate their power, which they think is slowly slipping out of their hands, especially in the Amhara region”, deputy chairman of the opposition party Hibir Ethiopia Yilkal Getnet, told The Associated Press.

The independent Ethiopian Human Rights Council said it’s not known where most detainees in the Amhara region are being held, alleging that many people were subjected to “kidnappings”.

The government-created Ethiopian Human Rights Commission called the “unlawful detention” of at least 19 journalists a “new low”.

On Wednesday, federal police announced it had identified 111 online media outlets it called illegal and are “attempting to cause a rift between the government and the general public”.

Ethiopia’s government and Amhara regional officials defend the arrests.

Getachew Abebe, 20, flees from his hometown of Addi Arkay when Tigrayan fighters took it over. PHOTO: AP