- Blames trade competition, contrabandists for Oromia-Somali clashes
- Regional police to be restructured
Appearing before the House of People’s Representatives (HPR) Thursday to respond to questions MPs raised on remarks made earlier by President Mulatu Teshome (PhD) while opening the current session of parliament, Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn defended federal forces accused of dragging their feet in dealing with violent clashes that have rocked the nation since early September.
The violence erupted in areas along the border of Oromia and Somali regional states as well as more recently in Bunno Bedelle locality of south-western Oromia, leading to loss of life and displacement.
“Had the national defense force not been deployed in time, the conflict would have claimed more lives and led to destruction of property,” the PM said.
During a two-and-a-half hour question-and-answer session, the premier also touched upon a range of topics, including the current political crisis, recent speculations about the resignation of two veteran EPRDF officials (Abadulla Gemeda and Bereket Simon), political and economic issues as well as other points that had been included (or left out) in the president’s speech during the opening session of the joint houses of parliament.
Regarding current affairs, the PM was asked about the recent deadly ethnic conflict between the Oromia and Ethiopian Somali Regional States whereby the latter’s Leyou (Special) Police has been accused of killing of civilians that was said to have eventually led to more killings from the two sides and displacement of over two hundred civilians, both Oromos and Somalis.
The PM, however, blamed khat (a stimulant leaf) traders, contrabandists as well as “some rent-seekers” for causing deadly conflicts between the two peoples.
“In my opinion, the very cause of this conflict is a wrong ideology and individuals’ wrong thinking. I do not call it a border dispute at all. It rather emanated from certain groups’ seeking to monopolize the khat trade,” he said, adding that there were others “who deliberately caused the recent clashes in order to gain economic and political benefits with their attempt at monopolizing and controlling khat trade routes through which millions of dollars are also smuggled out.”
He, moreover, noted that the government is working to dismantle illegal activities by rent-seeking groups along the border, and mentioned the confiscation of more than USD two million seized while being smuggled out in one month alone.
He, of course, did not absolve the Leyou Police of wrongdoing in the conflict that left scores dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Responding to specific questions on how the government defines the roles and responsibilities of the Leyou Police under the auspices of regional governments as compared to regular police, the PM told MPs that a new draft law is under consideration aimed at legislating the standard of police in regional governments.
Hailemariam, who recalled that there had once been a special police force known as “Fetino Derash” – a paramilitary-style police before it had to be decommissioned – further told MPs the draft law would be tabled before parliament sometime this year.
At the same session, the PM also explained the reasons behind the recent resignation of two senior members of the ruling party, and said that no one should be surprised because it is one feature of a democratic process, adding that more might come in the future.
On the resignation of Bereket Simon, the premier said, “Given his repeated request for retirement from government responsibilities and his life-long service to the nation, EPRDF had no choice but extend its sincere gratitude and accept his request.”
Even if Bereket resigns from government responsibilities, “his invaluable” contribution is expected to continue in different ways, he said.
Speaking of the submission of a resignation letter by Speaker Abadula Gemeda, he said this was his first request and the matter is under consideration. If he insists on retiring from his government responsibilities after the ongoing discussion, he said, EPRDF would have to respect his decision.
According to Hailemariam, as long as it is democratic, leadership substitution is not bad, and should be encouraged.
During Thursday’s session, a motion was tabled on whether MPs endorsed the president’s speech at the opening session of parliament. In a rare move, one Oromia MP happened to be the sole abstaining voice, even though no motive was given. Another spectacle worthy of note at the session was that, of the total 547 lawmakers, 170 MPs were not in attendance.