ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA - This report originated with VOA’s Amharic Service. Eskinder Firew reported from Addis Ababa and Mulugeta Atsbeha reported from Mekele, both in Ethiopia. Tsion Tadesse reported from VOA’s headquarters in Washington.
At a memorial service Tuesday, military leaders praised Ethiopia’s slain military chief, Seare Mekonnen, and vowed to restore stability to the shaken country.
“We will continue the struggle that he started,” General Birhanu Jelan, deputy to the slain chief, told more than 1,000 people gathered at Millennium Hall Tuesday morning to pay their respects.
Maasho Seare spoke of his father as “a hero who always believed in Ethiopian unity and worked for tolerance among its people.”
Seare was shot dead at home Saturday by his bodyguard, who also killed visiting retired Major-General Gezae Abera. Both victims were honored at Tuesday’s service.
Their coffins, each draped with an Ethiopian flag, were arranged at the center of the hall. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Sahle-Work Zewde sat nearby and wept openly during the service, though neither formally addressed the crowd.
The attack on the two military men in Addis followed another deadly attack, hours earlier, on officials in the northern Amhara region’s capital, Bahir Dar. Three were fatally wounded in that assault: Ambachew Mekonnen, the regional leader, along with his adviser and the region’s attorney general. Ambachew was an ally of Abiy.
State television identified the Amhara region’s security chief, Brigadier General Asamnew Tsige, as the mastermind of an attempted coup. Asamnew was captured and killed Monday in Bahir Dar’s Zenzelima neighborhood. State media reported that security forces shot the general dead as he tried to escape.
Saturday’s attacks, which may have been coordinated, are widely seen as a threat to reforms that Abiy has ushered in following his election in April 2018. He has made peace with neighboring Eritrea, Ethiopia’s longtime rival. He also has widened political space, freed political prisoners, lifted press restrictions and encouraged new business investment.
Isubalew Dres, a driver for Ambachew, told VOA’s Amharic Service in a phone interview that he was at a government guesthouse in Bahir Dar when a handful of armed men in military uniforms showed up. They confiscated security forces’ weapons as well as civilians’ cellphones. Isubalew says he was ordered to get behind the wheel of a government car he usually drove. A military officer got into the passenger seat next to him. At one point, Isubalew glanced up and saw Asamnew on the balcony of the guesthouse, where he has a room.
The passenger ordered Isubalew to drive. Along the way, the passenger was on the phone, addressing the other party as “General.” The passenger repeated what Isubalew believes were orders to take control of police, state media and other institutions. When the car approached the destination – apparently Asamnew’s military training camp – Isubalew saw a kneeling figure being whipped. Isubalew recognized him as Colonel Alebel Amare, an Asamnew deputy. “That’s when I knew things were really bad,” the driver told VOA.
Isubalew said he was able to escape when the militants were distracted by the arrival of a wounded colleague. “Everybody was fussing over him,” said Isubalew, who fled on foot.
Bodies sent home
After Tuesday service, Abiy saluted the coffins, which were placed in a van and taken to Bole International Airport, AFP reported. The bodies then were flown to Mekele, capital of the Tigray National Regional state from which both men had come.
Regional leaders were at the airport to receive the bodies.
As part of a security crackdown, more than 180 arrests have been made in connection with the attacks, according to the Associated Press. Alebel is among military personnel being investigated, Ethiopia state media have reported. The country’s internet service also has been shuttered for a fourth straight day.