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.
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 said. 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.
In an interview in February, he said he knew Mekelle residents had “mixed feelings” about his presence in the office formerly occupied by their overthrown leaders.
He 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.
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.
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.