Five people suspected of burning down four mosques in Ethiopia’s Amhara region have been arrested, a regional spokesman said, as rising inter-communal and ethnic violence threatens political reforms initiated by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
“Five people who are suspected of leading and organising the attacks have now been arrested,” Getnet Yirsaw, the Amhara state spokesman, said in a Facebook post on Saturday.
State-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate reported on Saturday that a number of mosques were attacked and that “other properties were destroyed” in Mota town, more than 350 km (217 miles) north of the capital, Addis Ababa.
“Attempts by extremists to breakdown our rich history of religious tolerance and coexistence have no place in the new prosperity focused Ethiopia,” Abiy, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said in a statement posted on his Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“I condemn such acts of cowardice and call upon all peace loving Ethiopians to draw upon our deep knowledge of coexistence and our reservoir of respect,” the statement added.
Fana also said one church was attacked.
While ethnic violence has been a persistent problem under Abiy, recent unrest appears to have been at least partly motivated by religion.
During several days of violence in the Oromia region in October that killed more than 80 people, attacks on both mosques and Orthodox Christian churches were reported.
Yet analysts caution that conflicts that appear to be rooted in religion are often also shaped by disputes over land use, ethnicity and other issues.
Muslims make up about one-third of Ethiopia’s population of 110 million, second only to Orthodox Christians at 40 percent, according to the last census which was conducted in 2007.
But Muslims are vastly outnumbered in Amhara, the country’s second-most-populous region where Orthodox Christians make up more than 80 percent of the total.
The attacks on the mosques were condemned by the Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council, Fana reported.
Daniel Bekele, head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, said in a statement that Amhara regional officials “should act promptly to investigate and bring perpetrators to justice”.