8 January 2018

Ethiopia: National Security Council Reflects On Yet Another Daunting Security Assessment

analysis

Addis Abeba — In another meeting attended by members of Ethiopia's Security Council, participants at a day long meeting on Friday January 05 have reflected on yet another daunting security assessment compiled from various parts of the country since the council's first meeting was held, during which an alarming security assessment document was presented.

The participants on Friday's meeting included Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa, who is the chairperson of the security council. Both PM Hailemariam and Siraj Fegessa have chaired the meeting which was also attended by high level federal and regional defense and security officials and members of the federal and regional police forces among others.

Two sources familiar with the meeting have told Addis Standard during the weekend that "concerns were raised by members of the national defense forces and the federal police regarding strong resistance from several parts of the public, particularly in Oromia and Amhara regional states." Oromia and Amhara regional states are two of the biggest regional states which were hit by persistent anti-government protests in the last two years. The security council meeting was also told by participants from the federal security and intelligence forces that increasing trends of ethnic based attacks observed in various universities and cities in Oromia, Amhara and Tigray regional states have become the "most serious issues that have challenged both," according to one of the sources who wants to remain anonymous.

The issue of "diminishing lack of public confidence in the federal army and the federal police force" was also discussed in light of the October 26/2017 killings of ten civilians in Ambo, 125 km west of Addis Abeba, and the killings of more than a dozen civilians in Chelenko, East Hararghe zone of the Oromia regional state. "It was discussed in detail as one of the reasons for this lack of public trust," said the other source who spoke to Addis Standard. The Oromia regional government and residents of both Ambo and Chelenko have blamed members of the national defense force for the killings.

Participants of the Security Council meeting have also discussed the "difficult issue of the recent ethnic based attacks" observed in some universities, as well as the mid-December 2017 killings in Ethio-Somali and Oromia regional states that claimed the lives of close to eighty civilians. "Both were raised as examples that the work of restoring law and order was far from achieved."

At a press briefing he gave late on Friday, after the day long meeting of the council, Siraj Fegessa told local media representatives that the overall security situation in the country "has improved: since the Council's meeting in October. However, he said the Council recognized that more needs to be done to consolidate the gains made so far. He also said normal teaching learning processes have resumed in the universities that have experienced disruptions following ethnic based attacks and student protests "except for three universities". However, Siraj didn't mention the three universities by name. He also refused to take more questions from journalists saying there will be another briefing for the media in due course.

However, answering to one questions from a local reporter, Siraj said that the security crisis in Ethiopian Somali and Oromia adjacent zones were caused by border disputes and that since the first security council meeting police forces from both regions were made to vacate contested areas which were then manned by members of the federal army.

The issue of absence of the federal government's commitment in dealing with the Oromia-Somali crisis as well as its "lack of resolve to resettle hundreds of thousands internally displaced Ethiopians" who were "victimized" by the violence, which began showing signs of escalation as far back as December 2016, "stood out as one of the hotly debated topics," according to one of the two sources.

Representatives from the federal defense and police forces on their turn blamed lack of cooperation from their regional counterparts, especially in Oromia and Amhara regional states, which led to "several deaths of innocent civilians" during protests. "A senior defense official said at the meeting that the federal government's thinly spread budget has added to the already fragile dynamics between federal and regional security and intelligence officials in terms of coordinating their acts," one of our sources said.

The meeting has discussed the possibilities of increasing more security measures to be coordinated between federal and regional states "to contain what was agreed as the most serious of all security threats": such as road blockages, ransacking of state affiliated properties, including army vehicles and ethnic based attacks, according to our sources.

Meanwhile, Reporter, the weekly Amharic newspaper said in its Sunday edition that the federal police has established a special task force to investigate the "Qeerroo" (The Afaan Oromoo term for "Young man"), but who the federal police believes were "clandestine" groups responsible for impeding the federal defense and federal police forces activities in eastern Ethiopia.

It is not clear if this decision is part of the security measures considered in the first security document. But many see the news as yet another crackdown against those who have continued staging ant-government protests especially in Oromia. AS

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