Ethiopian police have confirmed the arrest of hundreds of ethnic Tigrayans in the capital Addis Ababa in recent weeks. The police said they were supporting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which authorities banned after the Tigray conflict broke out in November. But rights group Amnesty International says dozens were detained because of their ethnicity.
Addis Ababa Police Commissioner Getu Argaw confirmed on Saturday that authorities had arrested over 300 Tigrayans.
But speaking on the state-run Ethiopian Broadcast Corporation, Getu denied the Tigrayans were arrested because of their ethnicity.
Getu said the arrests were made after thorough investigations found the suspects were supporting the TPLF, which authorities banned as a terrorist group in May over the conflict in Tigray region.
Getu said their arrests targeted only individuals who were supporting the ousted terrorist group. The arrests were not due to their ethnicity, said Getu, adding that suspects from other ethnic groups who were involved in supporting that terrorist group were also arrested.
Getu said illegal weapons and ammunition were seized from some of the suspects.
He was responding to a call Friday by rights group Amnesty International for Ethiopian authorities to end arbitrary detentions of Tigrayans without due process.
Amnesty said the sweeping arrests appeared to be ethnically motivated.
The rights group said while some of those arrested were released on bail, while hundreds of others were still being detained and their relatives kept in the dark.
Fisseha Tekle is Amnesty International’s human rights researcher for Ethiopia.
Tekle told VOA the families of those arrested do not know where they are being kept, they have not appeared in court, and this should stop. If they are involved in criminal activities they should appear before court, said Tekle, and their family should have the right to visit them, and they should also get an attorney.
The arrests come as the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region appears to be expanding.
A spokesman for neighboring Afar region on Monday said Tigrayan fighters attacked Afar forces on Saturday and that clashes continued over the weekend.
The TPLF has also vowed to regain territory seized by Amhara forces loyal to the federal government.
The conflict dates back to last November, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed deployed government forces to oust the TPLF from power in Tigray.
Ethiopian authorities announced a unilateral ceasefire in Tigray on June 28 as Tigrayan forces re-took the regional capital, Mekelle, from federal troops.
But with each passing day, it looks less likely the cease-fire is going to hold.