Ethiopia says another Tigray town seized

Ethiopian migrants, who fled intense fighting in their homeland, gather in the Um Raquba camp in the town of Gadaref, east of Khartoum. (AFP)
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Updated 17 November 2020

Ethiopia says another Tigray town seized

  • Conflict could jeopardize recent economic opening and highlights risks that fighting could spread

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government said on Monday it had captured another town in the northern Tigray region after nearly two weeks of fighting in a conflict already spilling into Eritrea and destabilising the wider Horn of Africa.
Hundreds have died, at least 20,000 refugees have fled to Sudan and there have been reports of atrocities since Abiy ordered air strikes and a ground offensive against Tigray’s rulers for defying his authority.
The conflict could jeopardize a recent economic opening, stir up ethnic bloodshed elsewhere around Africa’s second most populous nation, and tarnish the reputation of Abiy who won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for a peace pact with Eritrea.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which governs the region of more than 5 million people, has accused Eritrea of sending tanks and thousands of soldiers over the border to support Ethiopian federal troops. Asmara denies that.
Tigray forces fired rockets into Eritrea at the weekend.
A task force set up by Abiy to handle the government’s response to the crisis, said troops had “liberated” the town of Alamata from the TPLF. “They fled, taking along around 10,000 prisoners,” it added, without specifying where those were from.
With communications mainly down and media barred, Reuters could not independently verify assertions made by all sides.
There was no immediate comment from Tigray’s leaders on events in Alamata, near the border with Amhara state, about 120 km (75 miles) from Tigray’s capital Mekelle.
TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael urged the United Nations and African Union to condemn Ethiopia’s federal troops, accusing them of using high-tech weaponry including drones in attacks he said smashed a dam and a sugar factory.
“Abiy Ahmed is waging this war on the people of Tigray and he is responsible for the purposeful infliction of human suffering on the people and destruction of major infrastructure projects,” he said.

BACKGROUND

The conflict could jeopardize a recent economic opening, stir up ethnic bloodshed elsewhere around Africa’s second most populous nation, and tarnish the reputation of Abiy who won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for a peace pact with Eritrea.

“We are not the initiators of this conflict and it is evident that Abiy Ahmed conducted this war as an attempt to consolidate his personal power,” he added, warning that Ethiopia could become a failed state or disintegrate.
The fighting has spread beyond Tigray into Amhara, whose local forces are allied with Abiy’s forces. On Friday, rockets were fired at two airports in Amhara in what the TPLF said was retaliation for government air strikes.
Tigray leaders accuse Abiy, who is from the largest Oromo ethnic group and Africa’s youngest leader, of persecuting them and purging them from government and security forces over the last two years. He says they rose up against him by attacking a military base.
Amnesty International has denounced the killing of scores and possibly hundreds of civilian laborers in a massacre that both sides have blamed on each other.
The Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) has around 140,000 personnel and plenty of experience from fighting Islamist militants in Somalia and rebel groups in border regions, plus a two-decade border standoff with Eritrea.
But many senior officers are Tigrayan, much of its most powerful weaponry is there, and the TPLF has seized the powerful Northern Command’s headquarters in Mekelle.
There are reports of defections of Tigrayan members of the ENDF. And the TPLF itself has a formidable history, spearheading the rebel march to Addis Ababa that ousted a Marxist dictatorship in 1991 and bearing the brunt of a 1998-2000 war with Eritrea that killed hundreds of thousands.
Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki — a long-time foe of the Tigrayan leaders — controls a vast standing army which the  US’ CIA puts at 200,000 personnel.
Abiy once fought alongside the Tigrayans and was a partner in government with them until 2018 when he took office, winning early plaudits for pursuing peace with Eritrea, starting to liberalize the economy and opening a repressive political system.

 


Ethiopian PM says troops ordered to move on Tigray capital

Updated 21 min 8 sec ago

Ethiopian PM says troops ordered to move on Tigray capital

NAIROBI, Kenya: Ethiopia’s prime minister says the army has been ordered to move on the embattled Tigray capital after his 72-hour ultimatum for Tigray leaders to surrender ended, and he warns residents to “stay indoors.”
The statement Thursday by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office means tanks and other weaponry can now close in on the city of some half-million people. His government has warned of “no mercy” if residents don’t move away from the Tigray leaders in time.
The new statement asserts that thousands of Tigray militia and special forces surrendered during the 72-hour period. “We will take utmost care to protect civilians,” it says.
Communications remain severed to Tigray, making it difficult to verify claims.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below:
The United Nations says shortages have become “very critical” in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region as its population of 6 million remains sealed off and its capital is under threat of attack by Ethiopian forces seeking to arrest the regional leaders.
Fuel and cash are running out, more than 1 million people are now estimated to be displaced and food for nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea will be gone in a week, according to a new report released overnight. And more than 600,000 people who rely on monthly food rations haven’t received them this month.
Travel blockages are so dire that even within the Tigray capital, Mekele, the UN World Food Program cannot obtain access to transport food from its warehouses there.
Communications and travel links remain severed with the Tigray region since the deadly conflict broke out on Nov. 4, and now Human Rights Watch is warning that “actions that deliberately impede relief supplies” violate international humanitarian law.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s 72-hour ultimatum for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front leaders to surrender ended Wednesday night. His government has said Mekele is surrounded.
The UN has reported people fleeing the city. Abiy’s government had warned them of “no mercy” if residents didn’t move away from the TPLF leaders who are accused of hiding among the population.
But with communications cut, it’s not clear how many people in Mekele received the warnings. The alarmed international community is calling for immediate de-escalation, dialogue and humanitarian access.
Abiy on Wednesday, however, rejected international “interference.”