Dozens of people were killed in fighting during a failed coup by a rogue state militia in Ethiopia’s Amhara region at the weekend, the regional government spokesman said on Wednesday, the first official report of significant clashes, ONA reports citing Reuters.
The militia attacked the police headquarters, ruling party headquarters and president’s office — where they executed three top officials — in Amhara’s regional capital of Bahir Dar on Saturday, Asemahagh Aseres told Reuters on the sidelines of a state burial for the officials who were killed.
The militia was a recently formed unit of the region’s security services. It had appealed for others to join its take-over were rebuffed, Asemahagh said.
“They are part of our police. They are not independent,” he told Reuters. “(But) most of the forces were not with them. They defended (us) very well.”
The fact that the militia were state forces rather than independent raises the stakes for the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has rolled out a package of economic and political reforms since taking office in April last year.
He has lifted a ban on political parties, released journalists, rebels and prisoners, and prosecuted officials accused of abuses. But his shake-up of the military and intelligence services has earned him powerful enemies.
His government is also struggling to contain discontent from Ethiopia’s myriad ethnic groups fighting the federal government and each other for greater influence and resources. Outbreaks of ethnic violence have displaced around 2.4 million people, according to the United Nations.
The spokesman said the militia had detained him when it took over a guesthouse for government officials and also tried and failed to take over the region’s state media. He said the militia were then chased out of the city.
A journalist confirmed to Reuters that militia members had approached, but withdrawn without firing at the media building’s armed security. Regional state-run media has reported 13 deaths in the violence so far.
Reuters could not independently verify Asemahagh’s death toll, but two independent witnesses Reuters interviewed in a coffeehouse the night before confirmed the militia attacked the three targets he named.
Details of more deaths in a separate but possibly linked attack in a neighboring state also emerged on Wednesday.
Men in camouflage uniforms killed more than 50 people and injured 23 others in the Metakal zone of the Benishangul-Gumuz region early on Monday, the region’s peace and security bureau head Abera Bayeta told Reuters.
“We are still investigating but we have our suspicion that those attackers might be the same people who were involved in the coup in Amhara region,” he said.
Reuters was unable to independently verify his account.