Zemene Kassie, who is claimed to be a leader of a volunteer Amhara militia called Fano, has been arrested by the Amhara Regional State police. 

Zemene was detained in the regional capital Bahir Dar city, at a locality called Kebele 03 along with 541 thousand ETB (about 10,000 USD) and other exhibits, according to the regional police. 

Following the arrest of Zemene, Addis Zeybe’s reporter witnessed a heavy presence of regional special forces in the city. 

The Fano participated in the counter-attack carried out last year by the government when the Tigrayan forces launched a military offensive and controlled some areas in the Amhara and Afar regions. 

As the operation to control areas taken by the Tigrayan forces in the Amhara and Afar regions culminated in liberating these areas, a widely circulated document alleged to be proposed by the government with strategies to contain post-war security challenges incited public controversy with the supposition that it’s intended to disarm Fano. 

This was followed by the government and Amhara region’s statement praising Fano members who fought alongside the allied government forces to defend their country while accusing those who operated “under the veil of the real Fano” of being agents of violence in the Amhara region. 

The government installed a joint task force to apprehend these members of Fano it took responsible for spreading violence by amassing and using illegal weapons; mobilizing, training, and arming youth fighters, among others. 

The joint task force announced in May that it detained 5, 804 “extremist Fano” members during the crackdown and is under investigation. Zemene Kassie was considered a mastermind of the incriminated Fano faction and was believed to have been hiding.   

In a speech released on YouTube on January 11, 2022, Zemene said, “The Amhara people need an organization that protects it… We are trying to organize the Fano so we can protect our people from imminent danger”. 

Zemene was a member of the military group called Arbegnoch Ginbar (Patriots’ Front), which joined forces in 2015 with Ginbot 7, a resistant group led by the current Education Minister, Birhanu Nega (Ph.D.). These two forces operated for years in Eritrea, trying to fight the then EPRDF-led government of Ethiopia.  

However, in 2018, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office and called all forces operating abroad to come back to the country and work with his government, the Arbegnoch Ginbar-Ginbot 7 fell apart, with its leaders returning home. 

When the more well-known members of the group, such as Birhanu Nega and Andargachew Tsige, flew into Addis Ababa in September 2018, they received a mass welcome at the airport. Zemene Kassie and others had found their ways back home and stayed low, until the conflict in Northern Ethiopia erupted in November 2020. 

There’s currently a mixed feeling in Bahir Dar concerning the arrest of Zemene as there is a conviction among a number of youths that he is at the forefront of organizing a group that would independently defend the Amhara. 

There is unusual tension in the city with the deployment of a large number of security forces since the report of Zemene’s apprehension. 

Residents told Addis Zeybe that the presence of the region’s special forces would have been cautioned by some calls on social media by activists for the people to go out and hold a mass demonstration.  

Zemene Kassie was born and raised in Merawi, a place 40 km from the city of Bahir Dar.

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