By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
January 3, 2012 (ADDIS ABABA) - The Ethiopian military has retired over 300 long serving senior military officers, according to country’s Ministry of Defense.
The army has cut-back a total of 316 senior military officials, including 13 Generals, as part of the plans set out in the army’s leadership succession plan.
This it the first major restructuring since 1991, a year which saw the brutal communist Derg regime overthrown by a coalition of rebel forces, who now make up the current ruling party, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
Speaking to a local newspaper, The Capital, the minister of National Defense, Siraj Fegisa, said that the shake-up was well planned to avoid risking a leadership gap.
“The question that there could be a leadership gap has been long addressed; we are implementing this succession plan after extensive preparation,” he said.
The Ethiopian military is planning to retire a total of 561 senior military posts in three phases during their current financial year.
The minister further stated that his ministry is working on restructuring, succession and the recruitment of personnel, to ensure that all of the country’s nationalities were well represented. In the past the national defense has been dominated by ethnic Tigraians, many of whom were prominent in the revolution against the Derg regime.
Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, but soon after this, between 1998 - 2000, they engaged in a bloody border war with their larger neighbour. Addis Ababa accused the Red Sea nation of continuously attempting to destabilise the country and the Horn of Africa region as a whole.
Ethiopia argues that Eritrea is no longer ’on the road to peace’ but also says that military action should be the last option.
According to its defense ministry, Ethiopia has forces on standby at its borders with Eritrea and Somalia to deter any security threats from al-Qaeda linked Somali militant group al-Shabaab, who Eritrea are accused of supporting.
Ethiopian forces are currently estimated to comprise of around 200,000 troops, which is less than half the amount it had when the war with Eritrea ended, but their army is still one of the largest military forces on the continent.