Ethiopia hits back against international criticism of detentions
NAIROBI, Dec 7 (Reuters) - International criticism that the Ethiopian government is arresting citizens based on their ethnicity is incorrect and undermines Ethiopia's sovereignty, the prime minister's spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Billene Seyoum told a news conference that such accusations deepen divisions in society and he said arrests conducted under the state of emergency declared on Nov. 2 were lawful.
"This is a legitimate government...going through the constitutional process of enacting any kind of measures for security to ensure that state order is well protected," Billene said. "Anything that is in direct interference is seen as a push toward the sovereignty of the country because these are clear state processes and mandates that the nation is going through."
She was responding to a statement issued on Monday by the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands, voicing concern that reports of widespread arrests of ethnic Tigrayans citizens - including women, children and the elderly - could violate international law.
On Nov. 17, the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said that thousands of people had been arrested since the state of emergency was declared.
Billene said the number of people detained was currently unclear as authorities were conducting investigations and releasing some people.
War broke out in the northern region of Tigray a year ago and has since seeped into two other regions of Ethiopia. Last month Tigrayan forces and their allies advanced to within 220 kilometres of the capital, but they have since retreated and the government has regained significant territory.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in footage aired late on Monday on state media that most of the areas that had been seized by Tigrayan forces in the Amhara and Afar regions had been retaken by government forces.
"We will continue with (liberating) the remaining areas," he said in a speech to soldiers. "The victory will continue and nothing will stop us. The enemy will be destroyed."
Reuters reported last month that Ethiopian authorities had rounded up high-profile Tigrayans - from a bank CEO to priests - as well as United Nations staff in a mass crackdown on suspected supporters of rebellious northern forces, citing interviews with people linked to the detainees.
The most recent wave of detentions followed previous arrests of Tigrayan citizens - after the initial conflict broke out and again as Ethiopian forces prepared to pull out of Tigray in June.
The Addis Ababa government has repeatedly denied that arrests are linked to ethnicity and said only supporters of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls most of Tigray, are targeted.
Special Report: Ethiopia’s crackdown on ethnic Tigrayans snares thousandshttps://www.reuters.com/article/ozatp-us-ethiopia-conflict-tigrayans-idAFKBN2CO0VO-OZATP
(Reporting by Maggie Fick Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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