Ethiopia rounds up high-profile Tigrayans, U.N. staff

Ethiopian authorities have rounded up high-profile Tigrayans – from a bank CEO to priests – as well as United Nations staff in a mass crackdown on suspected supporters of rebellious northern forces, according to people linked to the detainees.

Police denied targeting the Tigrayan ethnic group, saying those arrested were believed to have links to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has fought central government for a year.

The war has killed thousands, forced more than two million people from their homes, sucked in troops from neighbouring Eritrea and left hundreds of thousands in famine. Fighting has spread into neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions, threatening the stability of Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa.

Ethiopia declared a state of emergency last week as Tigrayan forces pushed south towards the capital Addis Ababa. That allows for indefinite detentions and requires citizens to carry ID cards that can indicate ethnic origin.

The United Nations said on Tuesday that at least 16 Ethiopian staff and dependents were detained but has not specified their ethnicity. On Wednesday, it said nine were still in custody.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said the arrests of Tigrayans – the latest in repeated waves documented by Reuters – were at least in the hundreds, including elderly people and mothers with children.

The detentions were “out of control”, one senior Ethiopian official told Reuters. He asked for anonymity for fear of retribution.

Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. Federal police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi said he was not authorised to comment on detentions, while Addis Ababa police spokesman FasikaFante said last week those detained “directly or indirectly” backed the TPLF.

The attorney general GedionTimotheos did not respond to requests for comment but previously told Reuters that the judicial system contained checks and balances to ensure the innocent were freed.

On Tuesday, police detained Daniel Tekeste, the Tigrayan CEO of Lion Bank along with five other staff, a bank employee told Reuters, adding they were released later that night. -Reuter

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