Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Nov 11 – Ethiopia has arrested 17 army officers for treason, accusing them of colluding with authorities in the northern region of Tigray, where the government is waging a military offensive, state media reported Wednesday.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops and air force jets into the federal state of Tigray last week after a months-long feud with its ruling party which he accuses of seeking to destabilise the country.
Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) had crossed a “red line” and attacked two federal military bases, which the party denies.
The state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC), citing the police, reported that “17 military officers have been arrested for creating fertile ground” for the TPLF to attack the national army.
The officers are accused of cutting communication systems between the military’s northern and central command, an act described as “treason”.
According to the FBC, one of the suspects was the head of the army’s communication department, who was caught in the act of sending 11 boxes “packed with explosives and missile components” to the TPLF.
Meanwhile Ethiopia’s human rights commission chief Daniel Bekele on Twitter expressed concern over the arrests of six journalists, without giving details on when they were detained, and on what charges.
They include an editor at the independent Addis Standard, Medihane Ekubamichae, and Bekalu Alamrew of YouTube news channel Awlo media.
“This trend is a dangerous reversal of the early steps taken by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government to improve press freedom,” said Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) representative Muthoki Mumo on Bekalu’s arrest.
Tigray has been under a communications blackout since the military operation was launched last Wednesday, making it difficult to verify the situation on the ground as both sides make claims regarding casualties and advances.
The head of the Ethiopian army’s northern division, Major General Belay Seyoum, told national media on Tuesday evening that 550 enemy combatants had been killed and 29 captured so far.
Thousands of civilians and some soldiers have already fled the fighting and crossed west into Sudan, said Alsir Khaled, head of Sudan’s refugee agency in the eastern border town of Kassala.
“Around 3,000 refugees crossed over,” he told AFP on Tuesday, adding that around 30 Ethiopian soldiers who fled had turned themselves over to Sudanese authorities.
The international community has expressed concern about the potential for a drawn-out conflict in Africa’s second most populous nation.
Abiy — who has repeatedly sought to defend and justify the military operation — said Tuesday it would end “as soon as the criminal junta is disarmed, legitimate administration in the region restored, and fugitives apprehended & brought to justice.”
The TPLF dominated politics in Ethiopia for nearly three decades before Abiy came to power in 2018, but have complained about being sidelined under his rule and tensions have soared in recent months as they became increasingly defiant to his rule