Two aid workers with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) have been killed in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, the charity said, amid civil unrest triggered by a federal government decision to disband regional special forces units.
Chuol Tongyik, a security manager, and Amare Kindeya, a driver, were “shot and killed” while returning to the capital Addis Ababa from Amhara on Sunday, CRS said in a statement on Monday.
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CRS director of communications Kim Pozniak said that the incident occurred in the town of Kobo, where residents reported heavy artillery fire on Sunday between the federal military and Amhara regional forces, but did not say whether the shootings were linked to the unrest.
“Details of the murder are still unknown,” CRS said in a statement.
Protests and gun battles gripped several towns in Amhara over the weekend and in some places continued through Monday, according to residents. The unrest came after the government announced its intention to dissolve the federal states’ security forces it said pose a threat to the country’s security and to “build a strong centralised army”.
“The depth of our shock and sorrow is difficult to measure and we are angered over this senseless violence,” said Zemede Zewdie, CRS country representative in Ethiopia. “CRS is a humanitarian agency dedicated to serving the most vulnerable people in Ethiopia.”
Amhara’s regional government said on Monday that it had banned protests in Gondar, which has seen some of the largest demonstrations, imposed restrictions on the circulation of three-wheeled vehicles there and ordered bars to close by 9pm.
Elsewhere in Amhara, demonstrators blocked roads and burned tyres in the streets, paralysing much of the region, Ethiopia’s second largest. In response, the government imposed a curfew and shut off internet service in several areas.
Amhara politicians and activists have condemned the government order that requires special forces from each of Ethiopia’s 11 regions – which enjoy a degree of autonomy – to integrate into the police or the federal army.
They say disbanding Amhara’s special forces would leave the region vulnerable to attacks by neighbouring regions, including Tigray, whose leaders agreed to a truce with the federal government in November to end a two-year war that killed tens of thousands.
Amhara forces fought alongside the federal army in that conflict.
Many Amharas feel betrayed by the federal government’s inability to prevent the war from spilling into their region in 2021 and by its failure to stop attacks against ethnic Amharas by gunmen in Oromia, Ethiopia’s biggest region. They say they will be left unprotected if their regional force is dismantled.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed says the integration of the regional special forces is needed to ensure national unity in a country with a long history of interethnic conflict.
“Appropriate law enforcement measures will be taken against those who deliberately play a destructive role,” he said.
Ethiopia’s constitution gives federal states the right to run a police force to maintain law and order. However, several states have also built up powerful regional security forces.