ADDIS ABABA – A former president of an Ethiopian region who was arrested on charges of human rights abuses and stoking deadly ethnic clashes tried to escape by climbing out a window while in police custody ahead of a court appearance, police said on Friday.
Abdi Mohammed Omer, a former administrator of the Somali Region, was forced to resign on Aug. 6 and arrested weeks later after violence broke out in the provincial capital Jijiga.
He has since been accused of presiding over widespread rights abuses that included torture, rapes and killings.
“In his escape attempt, he broke a window before choking a member of the police force,” the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporation news outlet said, quoting a police statement.
The agency said Abdi subsequently denied the claim in court, and said the accusations were aimed at “tarnishing his name”.
Rights groups have routinely accused Abdi’s administration of abuses such as torture.
At least 20 people died and thousands fled Jijiga as mobs looted properties owned by ethnic minorities and burned down several Ethiopian Orthodox churches during the outbreak of violence in August.
The central authorities said the unrest in the region had been triggered by local officials fearing arrest on human rights abuse charges.
The Somali Region has been plagued by violence for the last three decades, in which the government fought the secessionist Ogaden National Liberation Front before the group declared a unilateral ceasefire this month in the wake of reforms.
The province holds four trillion cubic feet of oil and gas reserves, government estimates show. China’s GCL-Poly Petroleum Investments has been developing two gas fields there since 2013.
Ethiopia has been ruled for decades by a government that maintained a strong emphasis on security and tolerated little dissent. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who took office in April, has enacted reforms, released political prisoners, made peace with militant groups and reached a rapprochement with regional foe Eritrea.