On Friday, Ethiopia’s government declared a state of emergency following days of clashes in the Amhara region between the military and local Fano militiamen.
Fighting that erupted across Ethiopia’s second-largest region earlier this week has quickly become a security crisis. Amhara’s regional government on Thursday requested additional help from federal authorities to reimpose order.
The statement by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office announcing the state of emergency did not say whether it applied only in Amhara or across the country.
“It was found necessary to declare a state of emergency as it had become difficult to control this outrageous activity based on the regular legal system,” the statement said.
This declaration gives the state the power to ban public gatherings, make arrests without warrants, and to impose curfews.
Fano, a part-time militia with no formal command structure, was a key ally of the military (ENDF) during a two-year civil war in the neighboring Tigray region that ended last November, but the relationship has soured over recent efforts by federal authorities to weaken regional paramilitary groups.
Speaking on Friday, two residents of Amhara’s second-biggest city, Gondar, said that intense fighting took place the previous day near the university.
“ENDF first controlled the university, but they were pushed back by Fano. They were trying to advance to the center of the city, but they couldn’t,” said one resident.
The other, a local official, said the military had pulled back from the university but did not say why. Both asked not to be named for security reasons.
A Fano member, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the militiamen were trying to encircle Amhara’s capital Bahir Dar. He said they had captured Merawi, a town 30 km south of Bahir Dar. Reuters could not independently confirm his claims. An ENDF spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to residents, mobile internet remained down in the region. Ethiopian Airlines had canceled flights to three of the four airports it flies to in Amhara, an airline spokesperson said.
Violent protests erupted across Amhara in April after Abiy ordered that security forces from Ethiopia’s 11 regions be integrated into the police or national army.
Protesters noted that the order was meant to weaken Amhara and would leave it vulnerable to attacks from neighbouring regions. The federal government denied this and said the objective was ensuring national unity.