ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopian soldiers traded fire with members of local government security forces on Saturday in the country’s eastern Somali region after central authorities sought to arrest regional officials, witnesses said.
Residents told Reuters soldiers were deployed in the province’s capital Jijiga on Friday evening, bringing them into conflict with the region’s paramilitary forces.
“We can still hear shots being fired. They have been taking place since the morning,” one resident said.
Another resident told Reuters an Ethiopian Orthodox church had been burned down by a mob, while shops, hotels and banks remained closed.
A third witness said government soldiers had been deployed in the region’s administration offices with the intention of arresting officials.
It was not immediately clear why the government in Addis Ababa sought to apprehend them. Officials in the capital and Jijiga were not immediately available for comment.
Ethiopia’s Somali region has been plagued by violence for the last two decades. The government has fought the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) since 1984 after the group launched its bid for secession of the region, also known as Ogaden.
Since 2017, clashes along the province’s border with the Oromiya region have displaced tens of thousands of people.
The region’s officials have recently been accused by the government in Addis Ababa of perpetrating rights abuses. Last month, Ethiopia fired senior prison officials there after details emerged of torture and other abuses in one notorious prison.