Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, August 4, 2018 – Ethiopian soldiers traded fire with members of local government security forces on Saturday in the country’s eastern Somali region after central authorities sought to arrest regional officials, witnesses said.
Residents told Reuters soldiers were deployed in the province’s capital Jigjiga on Friday evening, bringing them into conflict with the region’s paramilitary forces.
“We can still hear shots being fired. They have been taking place since the morning,” one resident said.
Another resident told Reuters an Ethiopian Orthodox church had been burned down by a mob, while shops, hotels, and banks remained closed.
A third witness said government soldiers had been deployed in the region’s administration offices with the intention of arresting officials.
It was not immediately clear why the government in Addis Ababa sought to apprehend them. Officials in the capital and Jigjiga were not immediately available for comment.
Ethiopia’s Somali region has been plagued by violence for the last two decades. The government has fought the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) since 1984 after the group launched its bid for a secession of the region, also known as Ogaden.
Since 2017, clashes along the province’s border with the Oromiya region have displaced tens of thousands of people.
The region’s officials have recently been accused by the government in Addis Ababa of perpetrating rights abuses. Last month, Ethiopia fired senior prison officials thereafter details emerged of torture and other abuses in one notorious prison.
On the other hand, a report by ESAT says Jigjiga is now under the control of the federal defense forces and government offices in the region are secured and patrolled. The report added that the region’s president is vowing to exercise article 39 of the constitutions which allows secession from Ethiopia.
The region has been a security challenge to the federal government for nearly a year now. And analysts tend to think that there is a close alliance between Ethio-Somali region president and his administration, and TPLF elites who are believed to have widely engaged in reversing the ongoing reform under the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
In September 2017, more than half a million Oromo speakers were displaced from the region following ethnic-based violence that is believed to be manufactured by TPLF leaders with a business interest in the illicit trade in the region and the government of Abdi Mohamoud Omar.
This week, Dire Dawa, one of Ethiopia’s most multi-ethnic city, experienced security problem as orchestrated ethnic-based violence rise, and the Federal government had to deploy defense force and the federal police. The city is now under Command Post.