Two aid workers with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) were killed in Ethiopia's Amhara region amid civil unrest, according to a statement Monday from the aid agency. The unrest was triggered by the government's decision to dissolve the regional security units of the country's 11 federal states and fold them into the federal forces.
Chuol Tongyik, 37, a security manager, and Amare Kindeya, 43, a driver, were shot and killed in the Amhara region as they were traveling back to the capital city of Addis Ababa, according to a statement from CRS. The exact details surrounding their deaths are not known.
Late Monday, CRS communications director Kim Pozniak said that the incident occurred in the town of Kobo. Residents in the town reported heavy artillery fire Sunday. According to The Associated Press, the town was the scene of fighting between the Ethiopian military and Amhara regional forces Sunday. Pozniak did not say whether the shootings were linked to the skirmishes there.
"The depth of our shock and sorrow is difficult to measure and we are angered over this senseless violence," said Zemede Zewdie, CRS country representative in Ethiopia. "CRS is a humanitarian agency dedicated to serving the most vulnerable people in Ethiopia."
Spokespeople for Ethiopia's federal government and for the Amhara regional government did not immediately respond to requests from Reuters for comment about the killings.
Protests and gunbattles affected several towns in addition to Kobo over the weekend, including Woldiya and Sekota, and continued Monday in some places.
Despite the violence, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed vowed to push ahead with the new policy. The government's decision to integrate the regional special forces is an attempt to build national unity and "a strong centralized army" in a country with a long history of inter-ethnic conflict.
"Appropriate law enforcement measures will be taken against those who deliberately play a destructive role," he said.
Ethiopia's constitution gives federal states the right to run a police force to maintain law and order. However, several states have also built up powerful regional security forces.
Clashes between these forces have become common amid disputes between states over land and resources. In his statement Sunday, Abiy said regional security forces posed a threat to Ethiopia's unity.
Some information from this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.