Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed vowed Sunday to dismantle regional forces established by some states, warning that law enforcement measures would be taken against any “destructive” opposition.
The initiative first announced on Thursday aims to integrate such forces, which were set up unilaterally by some states, into the federal army, regional police, or civilian life.
These forces have sparked controversy in the past, particularly during the brutal Tigray war, with security officials operating in Amhara region accused of severe human rights abuses.
Ethiopia’s constitution allows its 11 states, drawn up along linguistic and cultural lines, to operate their own regional police forces.
But over the last 15 years, some states have gradually established separate forces, acting outside these constitutional constraints.
In a statement published on his Twitter account on Sunday, Abiy said “Ethiopia had encountered difficulties… in relation to regional special forces,” pointing out the existence of illegal checkpoints, smuggling, and banditry.
Regional forces and local militias bolstered support for federal troops in their two-year war against Tigrayan rebels until a peace deal was signed in November 2022, angering some Amhara residents who have a long history of border disputes with Tigray.
Reports of localized unrest have also emerged in Amhara where regional forces have begun to disarm, with Abiy saying the government would “try to convince and explain (the decision) to those who oppose without understanding.”
“Law enforcement measures will be taken against those who play deliberate destructive roles,” he warned.
“This decision will be implemented even (if we have to) pay the price, for the sake of Ethiopia’s… unity and for the people’s peace.”
Since war erupted in northern Ethiopia in November 2020, Amhara forces and local militias known as Fano have occupied western Tigray, an area claimed by Amhara and Tigray, which remains inaccessible to journalists.
Following a visit to Ethiopia last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Amhara forces had committed “ethnic cleansing” by forcibly transferring people out of western Tigray.
All parties to the conflict have been accused of possible war crimes by UN investigators.
The war began when Abiy sent troops into Tigray after accusing the TPLF, once the dominant party in Ethiopia, of attacking army bases.