Mobile internet outages in Ethiopia's Amhara amid fighting, residents say

By Dawit Endeshaw

ADDIS ABABA, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Mobile internet access was down in parts of Ethiopia's Amhara region and flights to two cities were cancelled on Thursday, following days of clashes between the federal military and local militiamen.

A simmering feud between the Fano militia and federal authorities, who were allies during the two-year civil war in the neighbouring Tigray region that ended last November, has burst into the open this week.

The fighting was prompted by an operation by the military to push Fano fighters out of certain areas, according to a diplomatic source. Ethiopia's deputy prime minister, Demeke Mekonnen, called the situation "concerning" on Wednesday.

Two residents of Amhara's capital, Bahir Dar, and three in Gondar, its second-biggest city, said mobile internet services were unavailable on Thursday. They declined to be named for security reasons.

Authorities in Ethiopia have repeatedly cut internet services over the past few years during bouts of conflict and civil unrest.

Spokespeople for the federal government and the Amhara regional administration did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ashenafi Zeray, a spokesperson for Ethiopian Airlines ETHA.UL, said flights from the national capital Addis Ababa to Gondar and to the holy town of Lalibela where there has also been fighting, had been suspended. He declined to say why.

Fighting has taken place in several cities and towns this week. One of the Gondar residents, who is a local government official, said clashes broke out on the outskirts of the city on Wednesday and continued on Thursday.

Fano is a part-time militia with no formal command structure. Its relationship with federal authorities has soured in recent months over what some in Amhara say is a disregard by for the region's security.

Violent protests erupted across Amhara in April after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered that security forces from Ethiopia's 11 regions be integrated into the police or national army.

Protesters felt the order was meant to weaken Amhara, Ethiopia's second-largest region. The federal government denied this and said the objective was ensuring national unity.

(Writing by Aaron Ross; editing by Giles Elgood and Andrew Heavens)

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