6 August 2018

Ethiopia: Talks Between Federal and Somali Region Authorities Underway After Weekend Violence Leaves Trail of Casualties, Destruction

Photo: Addis Standard
The fed defense force moving into Jigjiga city, the capital of the Ethiopian Somali regional state.

Talks that started on Sunday b/n federal & Somali regional state authorities are underway and may lead to an "amicable settlement", a government source told Addis Standard. The talks involve both regional & federal administrative, military, security & intelligence authorities, according to our source.

See thread since Saturday for more pictures and video:

#Ethiopia:The fed defense forcea moving into #Jigjiga city, the capital of the Ethiopian #Somali regional state, after attempts to summon the region's Pres., Abdi Illey, to #AddisAbeba failed & reports that he ordered thousands of Liyu Police to move to the city. 📷 @oladmohamed pic.twitter.com/Qy3iGBLumz

- Addis Standard (@addisstandard) August 4, 2018

This followed the weekend's violence in Jigjiga city, the capital of the Somali regional state in eastern Ethiopia, and other cities and towns in its surrounding that left, according to VOA Somali service, at least 30 people dead. The violence also left a trail of destruction as groups of youth went on a rampage of looting and vandalism and attack against different ethnic communities living in the region. According to deacon Daniel Kibret, at least eight Ethiopian Orthodox Twahedo Churches were also set ablaze and six priests were killed, some gruesomely.

BREAKING: Nearly 30 people died as a result of yesterday's violence in Jigjiga, capital of the Somali region of Ethiopia, regional officials tell @voasomali. Situation in the city is calm today but there has been no reported breakthrough in averting further disturbances.

- Harun Maruf (@HarunMaruf) August 5, 2018

The incident began unfolding when, on Wednesday night last week, armed members of the Liyu Police, a controversial paramilitary force operating in Somali regional state under the auspices of the region's president Abdi Mohomud Omar, a.k.a Abdi Illey, tried to disrupt a meeting by some members of the regional state parliament, Somali elders and others, which was taking place in Dire Dawa, a chartered city in eastern Ethiopia. Participants of the meeting were denouncing human rights abuses in the region and have called for the federal government to hold Abdi Illey to account for gross human rights abuses. The attempt by the Liyu Police, along with growing signs of anarchy from organized youth groups, has forced the Dire Dawa city council to establish a military command post involving the city's and federal police as well as federal defense forces to safeguard the city and its environs.

After talks between federal and Somali regional state authorities to discuss security situation in the region in the wake of the events in Dire Dawa failed to produce results, on Saturday morning, armed members of the federal defenses forces began entering Jigjiga city, placing key regional installations, including main roads, regional Parliament and television buildings under the federal security. Federal forces have also surrounded Abdi Illey's "presidential palace", in the afternoon, triggering his supporters, particularly a civilian youth group called "Heego" to go on attacks against civilians of different ethnic background, businesses, churches and residential quarters, among others.

Update: Internet is cut off in most parts of the region, but phone lines in some areas of #Jigjiga are restored. Members of the federal army are patrolling few areas but "not enough to protect civilians. We are urging the government to protect us," one resident told AS by phone.

- Addis Standard (@addisstandard) August 5, 2018

Despite the presence of both members of the federal and the Liyu police army in the city, however, reports from several accounts, including a resident of Jigjiga city who spoke to Addis Standard, and Ethiopians who have family members living in various areas of the regional state and who spoke to them say not enough was done to protect civilians as door to door attacks continued until today. Somaliland media organizations are also reporting the arrival of several hundred Ethiopian refugees who fled the violence. The internet remained blocked but regular telephone lines, which were cut off along with electricity supplies on Saturday, have been restored in many parts of the regional state, including large parts of the capital.

Other than a statement from the ministry of defense on Saturday evening, in which the ministry said the federal army "will take all necessary measures" within the limits of the constitution to quell the unrest, which it said had spread to others parts of the regional state, the government remained silent. However, a government official who spoke to Addis Standard on conditions of anonymity admitted the federal army "was ill prepared" and had no "clear guidance" on how to protect civilians" in the event that its entry to the city of Jigjiga and its control of key installations would "trigger a backlash from both military and civilian loyalists of the president." On Saturday to Sunday morning, more Liyu Police paramilitary members began entering the city, adding to fears of confrontations with federal army members.

However, as part of the ongoing talks, which began on Saturday night and continued until today, as of last night and this morning, some members of the Liyu police have left the city of Jigjiga, while many more remained inside; others are patrolling its environs, particularly roads leading to and from Jigjiga. And members of the federal army who surrounded the "presidential palace" on Saturday afternoon were instructed on Saturday evening "not to engage in any hostile activities." But they remained in the city. The de-escaltion of confrontations on Sunday left room for President Abdi Illey to visit a church in Jigjiga city, which was set ablaze on Saturday, and also to speak to a group of elders and other members of the community. But sporadic attacks against civilians living off the main streets have continued until today in many parts, although less intense than were on Saturday and Sunday.

"The situation remains fluid, and there are no clear roadmap on what to do, or how to deal with the president [Abdi Illey]", our government source said.

But federal government remained silent and there neither additional official statement nor reporting by the state owned and/or affiliated media outlets, frustrating some residents of Addis Abeba who, this morning, went to demonstrate in front of the national broadcaster ETV demanding for coverage of events unfolding. Late this morning, in a pre-recorded video message acknowledged the crisis but offered no details others than repeating the usual mantra that the crisis has nothing to do between the brotherly and sisterly communities living in the region, particularly the Oromo and the Somali communities. He also cautioned communities to be alert toward what he said were "agent provocateurs who are inciting violence." AS

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