ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopian prosecutors on Wednesday accused the former president of the Somali region and 46 others of inciting ethnic violence last year, as the new prime minister cracks down on security services and senior members of past administrations.
The arrest in August last year of Abdi Mohammed Omer, who for more than a decade led the vast gas-rich region bordering Somalia, took place against the backdrop of drastic reforms since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was appointed in April.
Ahmed, 42, promised to curb powerful security services and made peace with separatist groups, including ONLF rebels, whom Abdi spent years trying to crush.
Human rights organizations regularly accused the Abdi administration of abuses, including torture, during and after fighting with the rebels.
Last year, 58 people died and more than 250 were injured in an outbreak of violence in Jijiga, the capital of the Somali region.
According to a five-month federal investigation, which resulted in charges being brought against Abdi and 46 other officials, organized mobs were ordered to "kill, rob and destroy" non-ethnic Somali residents and their property.
Abdi and other officials were accused of “direct or indirect participation” in inciting ethnic Somalis to revolt against non-Somalis.
The defendants “organized a youth group and spread messages to kill all other non-Somalis, as well as seize and destroy their property, loot banks and insurance companies and burn churches and gas stations”, according to the list of charges noted by Reuters.
Abdi, who appeared before the court together with five other politicians and security officials from his administration, was separately accused of trying to “overthrow the constitutional order”.
All defendants must appear in court on February 6 to file motions. Most of the officials were department heads in the regional government or in other political and security leadership positions.
Details of the investigation, made public last week by the Federal Prosecutor's Office, described how the regional government led a host of horrific crimes, including beheading, torture of opponents and mass rape.
It said that the police found a grave containing at least 200 bodies along the border with the Oromia region, as well as another, in which there were more than 50 bodies.
Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Maggie Fick and Hugh Lawson