A year after being named one of the world’s greatest peacemakers, the Ethiopian leader who has been credited with overseeing a number of peaceful political reforms has now confirmed that he will lead the nation’s army on the front lines against a resurgent group of rebel leaders that now controls the country’s second-largest city.
Abiy Ahmed, who is also the country’s first Arab-Ethiopian prime minister, stunned many Friday when he announced that he would lead troops battling Eritrean rebels in their heartland, Reuters reported.
A government spokesman said that Abiy’s decision to take part in an operation to rein in the rebel group known as the Ogaden National Liberation Front was made to protect the lives of Ethiopian citizens living in the area.
Abiy’s announcement came after weeks of reports that Ethiopia was continuing to transfer weapons and ammunition to Eritrea to help the government’s offensive against the Ogaden National Liberation Front.
The move was dubbed by the Associated Press as a “humanitarian effort” and not yet directly linked to a larger conflict with Eritrea that is still simmering on the borders of the two countries. The two nations have been fighting since the early 1990s over an area that Eritrea says belongs to it. However, the Red Sea state captured the strategically important Red Sea port of Assab in early June and is believed to be pouring arms into eastern Ethiopia in order to counter the rebel forces currently controlling the country’s second-largest city, Eritrean.
In a related development on Friday, the AP reported that three Eritrean soldiers and an Ethiopian journalist were detained in Ethiopia while reporting on an alleged massacre of 100,000 people in Asmara, Eritrea’s capital. The detainees were reportedly held in detention camps run by the Ethiopian military in Shishmaref, a remote region in northern Ethiopia.
While Ethiopia has refused to comment on the incident, Eritrea said in a statement on Friday that it was “troubled” by reports of the reported killings.
“We are also saddened to hear that such a horrible and inhuman act would have been committed by any human being or in any context,” the statement read. “We reiterate our categorical and unwavering commitment to peace and development in Ethiopia and throughout the region.”
Abiy was named prime minister in April 2018, promising sweeping reforms that have transformed the Horn of Africa nation. He also abandoned a decades-old policy that demanded that all Ethiopian exiles return home as part of a drive for national reconciliation. The policy caused tens of thousands of Ethiopians to flee the country each year to neighboring countries.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.