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Zenawi says defected officers fear purge from the Ethiopian army

Oct 1, 2006 (ADDIS ABABA) — Ethiopian Prime Minister attributed today the recent defections in the ranks of the Ethiopian army to fears from reform programmes aiming to purge the army from disloyal elements.

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Gen. Kemal Gelchi

In a statement to the Ethiopian TV, the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi denied Sunday divisions in the Ethiopian army.

“Efforts have been made to intensify the civil service reform programme since last year to correct shortcomings in all our institutions, including security and defence, as well as the civil service as a whole. Quite significant work has been done to carry out this reform programme in the defence forces, particularly since mid last year”.

“A number of problems have been noted within the institution during the process. It has been noted that there are individuals in the defence forces, who are not loyal to the constitution, and these things have been ignored.” Meles explained.

“At a time when final preparations were made to purge the institution and make it a place where only those loyal to the constitution can participate, there were situation where some individuals who did not like the process fled before the purge was carried out. However, the programme continues according to plan and is expected to be completed soon.”

Many high-ranking officers from the Ethiopian army defected since August. They mostly joint the opposition Oromo Liberation Front bases in the neighbouring Eritrea. The most important was the defection of Brig. Gen. Kemal Geltu to Eritrea with 150 Ethiopian soldiers on 10 August.

On the other hand, Meles denied the existence of political prisoners in the Ethiopian jails, saying there are insurgents detained for committing violence in the country.

“There are no political prisoners in Ethiopia at the moment. Those in prison are insurgents. So it is difficult to explain a situation of political prisoners, because there are none. However, insurgents and militants have been imprisoned because of their militant and violent acts and we will see what the court decides on that”.