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Friday, November 03, 2006

New Ethiopian arm general defects to opposition front

Nov 3, 2006 (PARIS) — A high ranking officer defected from the Ethiopian troops stationed near the Eritrean border. He joined a rebel group operating in the northeastern of the country, a press release said. Brig-Gen Gebru Ayele Belatchew, commander of 8th Mechanized Brigade of 108 Army Division based in Bademe — the controversial village in the Ethiopia-Eritrea war — joined the rebel Ethiopian People’s Patriotic Front (EPPF), on 27 October. The EPPF announced the defection in a press release in Amharic published by the front’s website on 2 November. The statement said several Ethiopian soldiers, members of the 26th Army Division, have also joined the EPPF forces during this week, without elaborating. At the end of the first week on last August, more than 150 Ethiopian troops have deserted, following Brig. Gen. Kemal Geltu, an army general who defected to Eritrea. Ethiopia confirmed the defection of Gen. Geltu, who was the commander of the 18th army division. One month later he was followed by Brig. Gen. Hailu Gonfa and Colonel Gemechu Ayana. All of them joined the Oromo Liberation Front. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi justified these recent defection the ranks of the army by fears from reform programmes aiming to purge the army from disloyal elements. “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.” Meles said on 1 October. Eritrea’s information ministry web site Shabait, which generally confirms such defections, did not release a statement on the desertion. "

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