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UPDATED: Ethiopia arrests 63 intelligence officials, military personnel suspected of rights abuses, corruption

Reuters , Monday 12 Nov 2018
Birhanu Tsegaye
Ethiopia’s Attorney General Birhanu Tsegaye speaks about the corruption and human rights violation reports in the country following the detention of 63 military and intelligence officers in Addis Ababa on November 12, 2018 (Photo: AFP)
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Ethiopia has arrested 63 intelligence officials, military personnel and businesspeople on allegations of rights violations and corruption, the country's attorney general announced Monday.

The sweeping high-profile arrests carried out in recent days are a result of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's order for a months-long investigation into misdoings under the previous government.

Attorney General Berhanu Tsegaye told the media that some of those arrested are suspected of abuses of prisoners including ``beatings, forced confessions, sodomy, rape, electrocution and even killings.''

Some of those arrested are accused of mismanaging a state-owned military corporation, the Metal and Engineering Corporation, that was looted in a multi-billion dollar corruption scheme, he said.

Berhanu also said that Ethiopia's former spy chief is suspected of involvement in an attempt to assassinate the new prime minster at a rally on June 23.

While other officials implicated in the plot have fled the country, the former intelligence chief is now residing in northern Ethiopia and should turn himself in to authorities, he said.

Yilikal Getnet, an opposition figure, told The Associated Press the public had demanded the arrests of the former officials.

``These have been issues that we in the opposition have long been calling for, too,'' he said, adding that Ethiopia needs a truth and reconciliation process to investigate past misdoings. ``The ruling party alone can't bring justice for all these atrocities committed in the past.''

Under the previous government, Ethiopia, a close security ally of the West, used to be accused of rights violations by human rights activists.

Since Abiy, 42, came to power in April his new government has released several thousand political prisoners, permitted exiled opposition groups to return home, dropped terror charges against prominent opposition politicians and permitted the media to operate more freely.

Despite the reforms, ethnic-based clashes are continuing in some parts of Ethiopia and pose the most serious threat to Abiy's leadership of this East African nation of 100 million people.

Amnesty International welcomed the arrests.

"These arrests are an important first step toward ensuring full accountability for the abuses that have dogged the country for several decades,'' said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International's East Africa Director.

'Many of these officials were at the helm of government agencies infamous for perpetrating gross human rights violations, such as torture and the arbitrary detention of people including in secret facilities. We urge the government of Prime Minister Abiy to take further steps to ensure justice and accountability for all past human rights violations and abuses, while at the same time ensuring all the individuals arrested receive fair trials.''

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