Ethiopia arrests former president of the Somali region

The “Big Man” of Jigjiga: President Abdi Mohamoud Omer

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — The former president of Ethiopia’s Somali region was arrested Monday, the state broadcaster ETV reported.

The dismissal and arrest of Abdi Mohammed Omar, a well-known politician from the country’s eastern area, came after unrest in the Somali region’s capital, Jigjiga, and other towns in recent weeks in which ethnic Somalis, suspected to be connected to Abdi, attacked people from other ethnic backgrounds.

Video showed Abdi being led out of his villa in a posh neighborhood in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. The state broadcaster reported five Kalashnikovs and four pistols were discovered inside his house.

On Saturday, Ethiopia’s Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed told reporters that measures will be taken against former officials of the Somali region, including Abdi, who is suspected of orchestrating the chaos in the region earlier this month that led to the destruction of government offices, the looting of businesses and the burning of churches.

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“What happened in the Somali region compares to a scene out of a movie or a fiction book. 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 told reporters. “What happened there was shameful.”

Abiy, Ethiopia’s 42-year-old reformist leader, stressed that his efforts to bring peace to the Somali area is one of his administration’s “most important and biggest” challenges.

Earlier this month, Ethiopian officials said the “Liyu Police,” a notorious special police force in the Somali region, carried out an attack that killed 41 people and wounded 20 others. In a July report, Human Rights Watch said the “Liyu Police” was accused of a relentless pattern of abuse, torture, rape and humiliation in the region, and that the force was connected with Abdi.

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“Hopefully, today’s arrest of Abdi Illey is a start to justice for victims of serious crimes in Ethiopia’s Somali region,” said Maria Burnett, associate director for Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division.

“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.”

A number of ethnic-based conflicts have raged across Ethiopia since Abiy came to power in April.

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