Clashes in the Somali region of Ethiopia led to the burning of churches, looting and rape. Police and PM Abiy Ahmed stepped in, calling the chaos shameful, and arresting a former regional president.
Abdi Mohammed Omar, known as Abdi Illey, was shown on television being led out of his villa in the Ethiopian capital on Monday and into police custody, reportedly on human rights charges.
The Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) reported that the attorney general said Abdi Illey was allegedly behind the human rights violations as well as ethnic and religious clashes in the Somali region, the second largest in Ethiopia.
Abdi Illey, the former president of Ethiopia's Somali region is a well-known politician who only resigned at the beginning of August, after 15 years in power. He had owed much of his authority to the military. His Godfather and special adviser was a Somali colonel in the national security services.
In the weeks before his resignation, at least 29 people were reported killed, as government offices were destroyed, businesses looted and churches burned.
Hyenas, lions and tigers
Ethiopian national troops and police were deployed into the state and Abdi Illey was replaced by his former finance minister Ahmed Abdi Mohamed. Ethiopian officials said a para-police force in the region called the "Liyu Police" had carried out attacks, including one which left 41 people dead and 20 others wounded. They were accused of abuse, torture and rape — and being linked to Abdi Illey.
Events shocked the rest of the east African nation, as Ethiopia's new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed explained at the weekend: "What happened in the Somali region compares to a scene out of a movie or a fiction book," he told reporters.
"As such, prisoners were held inside prison cells along with animals like hyenas, lions and tigers for intimidation purposes. People were raped, looting was rampant and people were killed," Abiy continued. "What happened there was shameful."
An area of interest
The Somali region was one of the first areas that the 42-year-old reformist leader Abiy had visited after becoming prime minister in April.
He had sought to ease tensions between the Somali and Oromo communities, saying bringing peace to the region was one of his administration's "most important and biggest" challenges. The region is also economically important, with four trillion cubic feet of oil and gas reserves, according to government estimates. China's GCL-Poly Petroleum Investments has been developing gas fields there since 2013.
Human Rights Watch
The Africa Division of research and advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) which in July had accused Abdi Illey of running a secret jail, welcomed the arrest. Maria Burnett, HRW's associate director said "Hopefully, today's arrest of Abdi Illey is a start to justice for victims of serious crimes in Ethiopia's Somali region."
"Other officials, who directed and supported abuses, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, should also be held to account," Burnett said. "The federal authorities should ensure that prosecutions are transparent, rigorous and fair and that victims and witnesses can testify without fear of reprisals."
jm/bw (AP, Reuters)