Ethiopia says dismantling of 'special forces' complete

Amhara forces

Recruits for reserves of Amhara regional forces stand during their graduation ceremony, in the city of Dessie, Ethiopia, on August 24, 2021. 

Photo credit: Eduardo Soteras | AFP


Ethiopia's army chief said on Saturday the country had completed the dismantling of "special forces" created by some regions, finalising a policy which sparked recent unrest.

The government said on April 6 the forces would be integrated into the federal army or regional police. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed justified the policy as strengthening multi-ethnic Ethiopia's "unity".

The forces had been operational in several of Ethiopia's 11 federal states and the move to dismantle them fomented several days of unrest in the Amhara region, where they were particularly active, earlier this month.

"Starting from today, the regional special forces structure is no longer there. Our work has been finished," stated army head Birhanu Jula, saying the new units would receive training to aid with their integration.

Ethiopia's constitution provides for the states in a country of more than 80 population groups to have their own institutions, including regional police.

However, the past 15 years have seen some states -- including  Somali in the east -- fall prey to incursions by armed groups such as Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab, which is behind an insurgency in neighbouring Somalia.

That unrest led to the formation and tolerance of "special forces" some of which had become powerful such as the Amhara variant, which helped the army fight Tigrayan forces after they launched a two-year rebellion in 2020 against the government.