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Saturday, 12 May, 2001, 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK
Ethiopia tense after security chief killing
Ethiopian rebels fighting against Mengistu's forces in 1991
Kinfe joined the rebel struggle against Mengitsu's regime
Ethiopia's security and intelligence chief, Kinfe Gebre-Mehdin, was considered to be one of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's right-hand men.

His assassination on Saturday morning at the hands of an army major has prompted much speculation in the capital, Addis Ababa.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
Prime Minister Meles has lost a key ally
Sources in the city have told News Online that it could be an attempt by dissenting groups to weaken the prime minister's position.

The atmosphere is tense in the city as news of the assassination spreads.

Ato Kinfe had been heading Ethiopia's security and intelligence office for almost a decade.

He was a key player in the 17-year liberation struggle to overthrow the Marxist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Different versions

Ato Kinfe fought alongside the prime minister as part of the rebel movement against Mengistu's forces in the north of the country.

He was also a prominent member the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the main party in the coalition government, in which he was a member of the central committee and politburo.

Ethiopian soldiers in the war against Eritrea
Dissenters have criticised the handling of the war with Eritrea
Some sources close to Ato Kinfe suggest the alleged assassin, Major Tsehaye Wolde-Selassie, had his own personal grievances with the security chief.

He is reported to have been provoking Ato Kinfe the previous day during a meeting with senior army officials.

However, others in Addis Ababa speculate that the assassination was the work of a splinter group of the TPLF, expelled from the party in March after criticising Mr Meles' progressive policies and the handling of the war with Eritrea.

Sources said the assassination of Ato Kinfe may be an attempt to isolate the prime minister and weaken his power.

Insecurity

Officials close to the government said that the assassination had come as "a total surprise", and questions are now being asked as to how one of Ethiopia's most heavily guarded men could have been gunned down by one of his own people.

Kinfe Gebre-Mehdin
Security and intelligence chief for nearly a decade
Right-hand man to Prime Minister Meles
Member of the TPLF central committee and politburo
Key player in Ethiopia's 17-year liberation struggle
"We are all feeling a little uneasy," said one official.

He denied that this could jeopardise trust between the government and the army, which is said to be impartial.

But critics say the army is split over the internal power struggle within the TPLF, with many siding with the dissenting group.

The assassination of the security chief is likely create a serious sense of insecurity within the government, which is already detaining opposition members, revolting students and human rights activists.

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See also:

26 May 00 | Africa
Eritrea's 'tactical retreat'
08 May 01 | Africa
Ethiopian academics arrested
21 Apr 01 | Africa
Anger over Ethiopian detainees
18 Apr 01 | Africa
More clashes in Addis Ababa
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