The Ethiopian government’s efforts to end the military operation the Amhara region within a short timeframe have faced significant challenges. Consequently, the Ethiopian Defense Force has initiated what seems to be an ambivalent engagement with residents in the region, a move that appears highly political and beyond the conventional scope of the Defense Force’s duties.
Recently, the commander of Ethiopian troops stationed in the Lalibela area, along with government officials from Bahir Dar, held a public meeting engaging the town’s residents. The unnamed commander passionately portrayed Fano forces as acting on behalf of enemy forces. However, video footage from the meeting depicted a young lady rebuking government soldiers for atrocities in the town and for threatening the safety of Holy Rock Hewn churches through artillery fire from nearby locations that caused shock and vibration to the churches. Contrary to the government’s depiction, the lady stated that Fano is not an enemy force and expressed how disciplined Fano’s forces are. She also expressed hope for conflict resolution through negotiation between government forces and Fano. If this doesn’t occur, she urged the Defense Force to withdraw from the Amhara region, emphasizing the unsuitability of Lalibela province for battle due to its historic rock-hewn churches at risk.
The Archbishop of the North Wollo Dioceses, His Grace Abune Ermias, also participated in the meeting, attempting a conciliatory role. However, some of his remarks, as well as their context, provoked outrage among many Ethiopians. Subsequently, he clarified that portions of his criticisms of the government were edited out.
In another meeting held in Bahir Dar, Lieutenant General Berhanu Bekele, Commander of the North West Command and chairperson of the Command Post overseeing the Amhara region’s state of emergency, along with the region’s new president Arega Kebede, claimed that “peace is prevailing in the region.” He urged the populace to stand guard to ensure full peace. “We are working to pass on a country, whose peace and unity is ensured, to the oncoming generation,” State media ENA quoted him as saying.
General Bekele also stressed the crucial role of faith leaders and elders in advocating peace. However, there exists a prevailing sentiment in the region that the government has not adequately addressed the long-standing political and security challenges faced by ethnic Amharas for decades. Instances of ethnic Amhara civilians being targeted and massacred in regions like Oromia and Benishangul Gumuz have escalated since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed assumed power in 2018. Moreover, travel from the Amhara region to Addis Ababa has become increasingly perilous, with passengers detained, abused, and even redirected back at checkpoints.
It is noticeable that the perception of people in the region towards the defense force has changed. The atrocities the defense force has committed on civilians in the region have pushed people to believe that it is guarding Abiy Ahmed’s power. Its deployment to the Amhara region is seen as one that is politically motivated to ravage the Amhara region rather than one that is necessitated by security needs.
To many in the region and beyond, the emergence of Fano forces symbolizes hope for change among ethnic Amharas, with their cause resonating deeply within the region. Consequently, Fano forces enjoy broad support within and beyond the Amhara community. The effectiveness of engaging residents without addressing the underlying political causes that fueled the rise of Fano remains uncertain, raising questions about the government’s desired outcomes.
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