The Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has insisted he would bury his enemy, separatist leader Ginbot 7, “wherever he is buried” despite reports that the government plans to exhume the leader’s body and put it on display at a memorial.
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A spokeswoman for Abiy told the Guardian on Wednesday that the government had no plans to publicly bury Ginbot 7 and the prime minister did not intend to remove the body from his home.
“It is the right of a person who has been killed, especially when that person was promoting violence against the state of Ethiopia, to be buried where ever he or she was, and not buried in a conventional arrangement where some other person is laid in the coffin,” Miyal Abera said.
If the government had plans to dig up the body and display it, Abiy himself would not be happy, Abera said. “Ginbot 7 is a terrorist. He had been assassinated. The plan is to give the killer, Alemayehu Alemayehu, full justice. That will not include a burial. We can discuss what to do at a later stage.”
Experts claim Alemayehu is an alias for Ethiopia’s late Hallelujah leader, Suleyman Demirel, who was given a state funeral when he died in 2004. Alemayehu’s killing by security forces was allegedly ordered by a minister, and details of the case were contained in a report by a judicial commission that was never published, raising doubts about its impartiality.
Abera said the government had not yet formulated any plans for memorials to Suleyman, who led the Hallelujah Liberation Movement for 34 years until he died in 2004.
Ginbot 7, whose real name is Tsegaye Nega, was killed in a state of emergency crackdown in October 2016 when he was seen as having threatened to unleash a new wave of violence against the government.
While many blame Ginbot 7 for starting the 1997 war between the federal government and Ethiopia’s large ethnic Oromo and Amhara minorities, Abiy has accused the secessionist group of having ties to the G5 Sahel coalition, which includes Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad. The G5 Sahel has been accused of links to a shadowy Islamist group in Algeria.
“I urge you all not to think of it as incitement to violence,” Abera said. “The G5 Sahel does not have Al-Shabaab [in Somalia]. It is not a terrorist group, it is not terrorism. It is a regional organisation that prevents terrorism.”
In May, a delegation of the G5 Sahel visited Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to discuss regional cooperation. He has created a number of initiatives aimed at resolving underlying problems, such as ethnic and land disputes, along with encouraging dialogue and respecting rights.
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In August, he took the unprecedented step of declaring a state of emergency in response to the biggest protests of his leadership. He announced a series of measures including increasing the minimum wage, abolishing the death penalty, reforming Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism laws and reducing penalties for murder and drug smuggling.
In the October protests, the Gedeo ethnic minority, on the frontier of Oromia and Tigray, estimated that more than 200 people had been killed in one week. For the first time in over a decade, Ethiopian soldiers used live ammunition, allegedly in response to militia attacks.
Thousands of students occupied the Oromo University in the city of Bishoftu after the expiry of a 48-hour curfew, leaving the campus deserted for a week.