Ethiopia’s federal government has replaced the head of the interim administration of Tigray, a region racked by more than six months of catastrophic conflict.
Mulu Nega had held the position since November, shortly after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced a military campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the northern region’s ruling party that had dominated national politics for decades.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
Mulu was replaced by Abraham Belay, who had been serving as minister of innovation and technology in the federal government, Abiy’s office said in a Twitter post on Thursday.
“The appointment is a result of a six-month performance review of the role,” Abiy’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum told the AFP news agency. Abraham is a member of Abiy’s Prosperity Party.
Abiy said on November 4 he was sending troops into Tigray after accusing the TPLF of orchestrating attacks on federal army camps. The TPLF, which was at the helm of Ethiopia’s governing coalition for nearly 30 years until Abiy took office in 2018, denied responsibility and said the reported attack was a pretext for an “invasion” by federal forces and allied troops from neighbouring Eritrea.
After federal troops took the regional capital Mekelle in November, Mulu set about trying to establish an interim government even as fighting raged elsewhere in the region.
Appointments given by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as of 6 May 2021
– Dr. Abraham Belay, Chief Executive of the Tigray Provisional Administration
– Dr. Mulu Nega, State Minister of Ministry of Science and Higher Education #PMOEthiopia
— Office of the Prime Minister – Ethiopia (@PMEthiopia) May 6, 2021
In an interview with AFP in February, he said he knew Mekelle residents had “mixed feelings” about his presence in the office formerly occupied by their overthrown leaders.
“They want to have a government take over the governance activities in the region,” he said. “On the other hand, as we are not elected, they have also some doubts. That’s natural.”
Mulu said he was happy in the job but did not want to stay on for long, and that he was planning to leave after elections are held in Tigray. The region will not take part in national elections planned for June 5 and it is unclear when voting will happen there.
Mulu had acknowledged the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray weeks before Abiy finally came clean about it in late March.
“The TPLF attacked the federal government’s army in the [Tigray] region, which is what exposed their location and led the Eritrean forces to enter,” he told Al Jazeera in late February. “It happened against our will.”
Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, declared victory in Tigray in late November, but TPLF leaders remain on the run and fighting rumbles on.
The conflict is believed to have killed thousands of people, if not more and displaced more than one million, including some 60,000 who fled to neighbouring Sudan.
Increasing reports of mass killings, rape and widespread hunger have prompted international alarm and pressing calls for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops, who have been implicated in some of the worst attacks on civilians documented so far, including brutal gang rapes. Eritrea denies involvement in atrocities.
During a visit on Wednesday at Um Rakuba refugee camp in Sudan’s Gadarif state, US Senator Chris Coons told Al Jazeera “there are still Eritrean troops all throughout Tigray and other places in Ethiopia”.
“It (the conflict) is not over and not resolved,” he said. “There still needs to be accountability for human rights violations, a ceasefire, the removal of foreign troops – the Eritrean troops in particular – from Tigray and a path towards the resolution of this conflict.”
Over the weekend, Abiy’s Council of Ministers approved a resolution classifying the TPLF as a “terrorist” group, dealing a blow to the prospect of peace talks.