NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A prominent peace forum in Ethiopia has been postponed as clashes between the federal government and fighters from a major ethnic group continue to destabilize the region.
The Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa said in a statement Thursday that the annual gathering of African leaders, set for October, has been pushed back to April 2024 “due to unforeseen circumstances.”
The forum takes place in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, which has experienced months of clashes as the federal government tries to disarm local fighters who had been its allies in a recent two-year conflict in the neighboring Tigray region.
The Tana forum describes itself as a platform for “African-led solutions to the continent’s most pressing security challenges.” In recent years, some of those challenges have occurred in the forum’s backyard as the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed struggles to contain ethnic groups that defy efforts to centralize power.
There are frequent reports from Amhara, Ethiopia’s second most populous region, of deadly drone strikes, shelling and other violence in regional towns including Lalibela. Fighting has also occurred in the town of Bahir Dar, where the peace forum takes place. Bahir Dar residents told The Associated Press last month they could hear military aircraft overhead and gunfire in the streets.
Calls to the Tana forum went unanswered on Friday. The non-governmental organization’s key partners include Ethiopia’s government, the Ethiopia-based African Union and the United Nations.
This week, a U.N.-backed international commission of human rights experts on Ethiopia warned that “violent confrontations are now at a near-national scale, with alarming reports of violations against civilians in the Amhara region and ongoing atrocities in Tigray.”
Ethiopia announced a state of emergency in the Amhara region last month, and the experts cited reports of “mass arbitrary detention of Amhara civilians,” including at least one drone strike carried by government forces.
Ethiopia’s government often tries to cover up the extent of such violence and crackdowns, barring the U.N.-backed experts, human rights researchers and journalists from Tigray and other affected areas. The experts described the government’s attempt at a justice process for victims as flawed, rushed and not trusted by many, including those targeted by federal authorities and combatants.
Now Ethiopia’s government wants to end the mandate of the U.N.-backed inquiry, following the quiet end to a separate investigation backed by the African Union. The U.N. Human Rights Council is set to decide early next month whether to extend it.
On Thursday, some African countries spoke up at the U.N. council in support of Ethiopia’s belief that it can deliver justice on its own.
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