Journalists, general, militiamen arrested in Ethiopia's Amhara

  • General Tefera Mamo had commanded Amhara regional forces
  • Gave TV interview criticising tactics in Tigray conflict
  • Appeared in court accused of trying to dismantle constitution
  • Case comes during some arrests and clash reported in Amhara

ADDIS ABABA, May 20 (Reuters) - A prominent Ethiopian general critical of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government appeared in court on Friday after being detained this week, his wife said, amid the arrests of some ethnic Amhara political activists and journalists.

Brigadier General Tefera Mamo commanded the Amhara region's forces until February when he was removed without explanation. Amhara forces backed Abiy's federal troops against rebellious forces in northern Tigray when conflict erupted there in 2020.

Last Sunday, Tefera gave a TV interview in which he criticised Abiy's strategy against the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and also accused Amhara members of the prime minister's ruling party of being motivated by money.

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Menen Haile, Tefera's wife, said he had been remanded in custody for ten days.

"The police said they suspected him working to forcefully dismantle the constitutional order," she told Reuters.

Tefera was arrested in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa on Monday, Menen said.

The president and spokesman of Amhara's regional administration and police did not respond to requests for comment.

Critics say Abiy, who won a Nobel Peace Prize after taking power as a reformist in 2018, is cracking down on dissent around Ethiopia. He says he is guaranteeing stability and law and order in the multi-ethnic nation.

Daniel Bekele, head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, said his team was monitoring Tefera's detention.

"We are gravely concerned about the wave of arrests," he told Reuters.

The federal government issued a statement saying it was "taking a wide range measures in Amhara region against groups involved in the illegal arms trade, looting and destroying property of individuals, killings, and creating conflict among the public."

CLASHES AND ARRESTS

Tefera's case comes during reports of arrests and a clash in one town in Amhara, Ethiopia's second most populous region, where a 2019 uprising led by a dissident general killed the regional president and chief of army staff.

On Thursday, allied federal and regional troops clashed in Motta with members of a volunteer militia known as Fano, according to Fano member Tafere Damete. He gave no more details.

Fano had been helping federal and Amhara soldiers in the Tigray war, and in his TV interview, Tefera had said the movement should not be sidelined.

A student leader, Eshetu Getinet, told Reuters that two Fano members had been detained in recent days in the regional capital and operations were under way to pick up more.

Nine members of the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA), an opposition party, were also arrested in two towns on May 18, said the Amhara Association of America.

"We urge the government to immediately stop abduction of NAMA members and leaders, Fano leaders, youths, those who are legally armed, military officers who served their country tirelessly," said a statement signed by five NAMA parliamentarians.

Five journalists from local media outlet Ashara, which has focused recent reporting on Fano, were also detained on Thursday, their colleague told Reuters.

"Those who took them were wearing a uniform of Amhara special forces, Amhara police and anti-riot forces. I was hiding in a toilet when they took them," he said, adding that they shut down Ashara's offices in Bahir Dar.

Amhara officials, military and police had no comment.

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Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom; Editing by Katharine Houreld, Andrew Cawthorne and Nick Macfie

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