Followed a three-day meeting of the Ethiopian Defense Council headed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), Deputy Chief of Staff and Head of Military Operations, Berhanu Jula (Gen.) faced journalists on January 11, 2019 to reply to questions raised on the current security situation of the nation from his office located off Churchill Avenue in which he appeared to be assertive about the roles of the military in restoring peace and stability in the conflict-riddled Ethiopia.
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Birhanu, who dwelt on the very recent mishaps in Western Gondar resulting in the death of civilians in a fire exchange between unidentified armed groups and the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), said that he would refrain from commenting on who is in “the wrong” and “whose bullet hit who,” before the investigation into the incident is completed.
“I am talking based on a report I received from the area. We have decided to investigate the incident thoroughly to understand it well; rest assured we will get to the bottom of it,” Birhanu said replying to questions from The Reporter.
Indicating that there are conflicting statements regarding what had happed, he condemned that officials need to know things through proper investigation, and lamented reports especially circulating on social media as destructive and causing clashes among the public; also as having the potential to hinder the ongoing reform process.
In addition, Birhanu said that, the West Gondar area, specifically the Kimant area extending from Metema to Chilga where the incident took place, is known for its instability and unrest.
“People in this area are armed. There are outlawed groups and bandits; the area is known for that sort of thing,” he reminded.
The convoy that the military was escorting had 30 different vehicles in it and members of the military were given an order to escort the property of Sur Construction, a company which is owned by EFFORT. And, because residents of the area suspected that artilleries might be transported by the company car, they asked to check the convoy in Shedi town and did not find what they were looking for, Berhanu recounted the events.
In unrelated incident, near a different town in west Gondar, ten members of ENDF, who were travelling to fetch water on a tanker track, were ambushed by armed men injuring two members of ENDF team. Then the members engaged in taking action on the armed attackers to defend themselves, according to the explanation offered by Berhanu.
Following this, the convoy, which has already passed checks, was stopped again due to a rumor that the military has attacked and killed innocent civilians (in relation to the incident that happened in the other place). Then after, the convoy was stopped and the military people as well as people around the area were around it when some armed men opened fire “without even identifying who is who.”
“We will investigate if there is a member of the ENDF that fired on civilians during this incident. That area would not have survived without the presence of the military. I cannot say that no bullet from the military went to civilians. We have no information to say who killed who. The Military cannot fire as people blocked its route and it has a rule of engagement. Statements made by others in this situation were not right in this regard. This area by itself is an area where directions from the regional government is not implemented,” Birhanu elaborated.
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But, if the military has done wrong, we will apologize, bring the wrong doers to account and compensate for the damages,” he asserted.
In a statement he gave a day before to journalists based in the region, the regional president Gedu Andargachew said that the incident and the causalities are by no means justifiable, and the proper body has to take responsibility. He further added that the event will be investigated.
Sur Construction was moving its equipment from one area where they were sitting idle to where it had works commissioned to it with an escort from the military.
While asked why the military escorted the construction company while the region has its own security forces, Birhanu said that regional security capabilities do not have the bases for providing escorts but request from the concerned body and a confirmation whether the matter has been made known to the regional and local government.