Minors arrested in sweeps on Ethiopian rebels, says rights group

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NAIROBI (Reuters) - Ethiopian security forces have detained minors as young as 11 in their crackdown on a militant group in western Gambella region and have also repressed opposition politicians, the state-appointed human rights commission said on Monday.

The report also said about 90 mainly ethnic Tigrayans had been in custody in Gambella since early November - when a war began between federal troops and the former ruling party of Tigray - without any investigation starting.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government says it is quelling insurrection in various parts of Africa's second most populous nation, while some rights groups say the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner is rolling back new freedoms he promised.

Ethiopia has a federal system with 10 regions and Abiy's Prosperity Party faces increasingly strident ethnically-based parties seeking more power for their areas.

Frictions are rising ahead of a June 5 parliamentary vote.

The commission said that in a Dec. 21-24 visit to the Agnwah zone of Gambella, it found worrying prison conditions.

"The Commission was alarmed to find two boys aged 11 and 12 and a girl aged 14 detained since mid-December 2020 on suspicion of being members of OLF Shane," it said, referring to a breakaway group from the Oromo Liberation Front.

The two boys had been beaten, it added.

The Tigrayans were held on suspicion of supporting the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) in that northern region, the commission said.

Opposition parties reported harassment including difficulties renting offices, restrictions on movement, threats, and relatives losing government jobs. One party said 35 members had been jailed, the commission said, while people also reported forced salary deductions to contribute to the Prosperity Party.

Gambella region spokesman Oudol Agwa told Reuters the local government had no information on detained minors while the Tigrayans had been arrested for conspiring with the TPLF. "The investigation has been delayed but those that need to will be freed after finalising the investigation," he said.

Asked about political repression, Oudol said some youths had been arrested for creating "havoc" at a meeting led by the regional president.

(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)