Ethiopia's PM sacks army general and intelligence chief amid Tigray conflict
ADDIS ABABA - Embattled Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed made three shocking changes on Sunday, touching three critical offices that are responsible for the security and foreign policy of the country, amid escalating tensions in the Tigray region, which necessitated military actions.
In the reshuffles, the Ethiopian National Defense Forces [ENDF] chief, head of intelligence, and foreign affairs minister were sacked, as the army continued with operations in the Tigray region, despite calls for a ceasefire from the international community.
Before making the changes, Abiy, a Nobel Peace Laureate, insisted that his decision to deploy the military to the Tigray region was "in order", adding that he won't allow "criminal elements" to destabilize peace and stability in the Horn of Africa nation.
In the statement made on Twitter, Abiy said Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen had been appointed foreign minister and Birhanu Jula was promoted to army chief of staff, from deputy army chief.
Also, Abiy also named Temesgen Tiruneh, who was president of the Amhara region, as the new intelligence chief. The prime minister is pursuing a military campaign he announced in the early hours of Wednesday, despite international pleas for dialogue with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front [TPLF] in order to avoid civil war.
In a report on Saturday, the United Nations said nine million people were at risk of displacement from the escalating conflict, warning that the government’s declaration on Wednesday of a state of emergency in Tigray was blocking food and other aid.
Tigrayans dominated Ethiopian politics for decades until Abiy took office in 2018. They are fighting his efforts to reduce their influence.
According to a medical official who spoke to AFP news agency, at least 98 government soldiers had been treated for gunshot wounds at a hospital in the neighboring Amhara region, the latest indication that fighting has been intense.
Abiy and military leaders have touted Ethiopian soldiers’ successes against forces loyal to the TPLF, but a communications blackout in the region has made their accounts difficult to verify.
Ethiopian military plane bombed a missile and artillery site next to the airport in the Tigray region’s capital Mekelle on Sunday, one military and two diplomatic sources told the Reuters news agency, which noted that it was not immediately clear what was destroyed in the bombing.
Experts have voiced concerns the conflict could not only break Ethiopia apart but also reverberate across the region and draw in outside forces.
“This could be the start of a civil war, but that is not certain,” said Martin Plaut, a longtime observer of politics in the Horn of Africa. “The situation in Tigray is one of many crises in the country, but could intensify, drawing in other Ethiopian regions, while also threatening neighboring Sudan and Eritrea.”