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Ethiopia's capital prepares for possible rebel attack

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Ethiopia's government has told residents of Addis Ababa, the nation's capital, a city of more than 5 million people, to prepare for a rebel attack. The Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has vowed to, quote, "bury the rebels." He says residents will defend Addis Ababa with their blood. Well, Samuel Getachew is a journalist based in Addis Ababa who's written for the Africa Report and Al Jazeera. He joins us now from the city. Welcome.

SAMUEL GETACHEW: Hello. Thank you.

KELLY: First, just give us a sense of what Addis feels like right now. What's it look like? What's it sound like? Are restaurants and markets and things open?

GETACHEW: You know, if you look at Addis Ababa in the daytime, it's just as normal as it gets. The cafes are busy. The traffic is heavy. And people are moving around, and people are working, it seems. But at night, you know, Ethiopia's under the state of emergency. There are obviously people being detained because the government is saying that they support the TPLF, which the Ethiopian government insists are a terrorist organization. And as you mentioned earlier, the local government has told people to take up arms and defend their neighborhoods should the TPLF come to Addis Ababa.

KELLY: Are preparations for a rebel attack visible? Can you see things on the ground that the government - that people are getting ready for a possible rebel attack?

GETACHEW: Well, I did see people lined up, and we did see people being trained in the open, giving them a crash course on how to defend their city. It's just a two-day training that they give them. And it's just to show their dedication. And they're saying the TPLF might be coming and they might do perhaps damage to their interests, and that's why they're being trained.

KELLY: You've mentioned the TPLF. This is the Tigray People's Liberation Front, the rebel fighters. But there are many ethnic Tigrayans who already live in Addis Ababa. These are the people who are being targeted, who are being detained by the government right now.

GETACHEW: Well, it depends on who you speak to. The Ethiopian government is saying that they're not focused on ethnicity. They're focused on detaining people that do support the TPLF. You have to know that the TPLF was in government for 27 years. But the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission - Daniel Bekele, the chief commissioner, said he sees some kind of ethnic elements in the detainment of these people, so it depends on who you listen to. But this conflict has been a wedge issue among Ethiopians. You know, there are many versions of the same fact.

KELLY: It sounds like an incredibly frustrating, difficult situation as a journalist and as an Ethiopian to not know exactly what is unfolding in your country.

GETACHEW: Well, it's not, you know, your citizenship that counts at this time. It's your humanity, I think. When you hear of conflicts in countries like the continent and even in some Asian nations, you will often hear of numbers. So when you see the faces behind the numbers, it gives you a glimpse of what's happening. This is a conflict defined by sexual exploitation of young women, and it's just so heartbreaking. I wonder how when this conflict ends - I hope it ends soon - how people can peacefully coexist. I think that's what worries me the most.

KELLY: You said you hope this conflict ends soon. Does that seem likely? Do you see any end in sight to the fighting?

GETACHEW: I hope so. What worries me is even if it ends, I just hope the people will find peace because, again, what we need in Ethiopia and in Africa is peace. I mean, it's just so overwhelming, frustrating. And especially when you've seen some of the people that have been impacted, the voices and so on, it's just - I think it's just heartbreaking.

KELLY: Samuel Getachew is a journalist based in Addis Ababa. Thank you for speaking with us.

GETACHEW: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.