Ethiopia PM, Olympic Medalist Ready To Join Tigray War

In this handout videograb released by the Ethiopian TV broadcast, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed addresses the public on television on June 23, 2019 after a failed coup. Ethiopia’s army chief and the president of a key region have been shot dead in a wave of violence highlighting the political instability in the country as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed tries to push through reforms.
HO / Ethiopian TV / AFP

 

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s vow this week to head for the front lines of his country’s brutal year-long war has boosted recruitment for the beleaguered armed forces. 

At least one prominent distance runner — marathoner and Olympic silver medallist Feyisa Lelisa — has joined thousands of ordinary Ethiopians keen to follow Abiy’s lead.

World powers have voiced alarm about a military escalation that could scuttle efforts to broker a ceasefire, as rebels claim they are advancing towards the capital Addis Ababa and foreign governments tell their citizens to leave.

On Wednesday hundreds of new army recruits took part in a ceremony held in their honour in the Kolfe district of Addis Ababa.

As officials corralled sheep and oxen into trucks bound for the north, the recruits broke into patriotic songs and chants.

“I was amazed when I heard” Abiy planned to join soldiers in the field, one of the recruits, 42-year-old driver Tesfaye Sherefa, told AFP.

“When a leader leaves his chair… and his throne it is to rescue his country. His focus is not to live but to rescue this country, and I sobbed when he said ‘follow me’ and went to the front line.”

Abiy announced on Monday night his plan “to lead the defence forces” from the front, but officials and state media have not provided details on his movements since then.

The recruits in Kolfe nevertheless took his statement to heart, sporting T-shirts emblazoned with a picture of Abiy in uniform and the words “We have a historic responsibility to defend the free name of Ethiopia.”

“I feel proud and I stand with him,” 25-year-old Esubalew Wale, another recruit, told AFP.

 ‘Great opportunity’ 

Ethiopia’s war erupted in November 2020 when Abiy sent troops into the northernmost Tigray region to topple its ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The 2019 Nobel Peace laureate said the move was in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps and promised a swift victory, but by late June the rebels had retaken most of Tigray including its capital Mekele.

Since then the TPLF has pushed into neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions, and this week it claimed to have seized a town just 220 kilometres (135 miles) from the capital.

Feyisa, the distance runner, told state media the rebels’ advance presented “a great opportunity” to defend the country.

The marathoner gained political prominence by raising and crossing his arms as he finished the marathon at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro — a gesture of solidarity with fellow ethnic Oromos killed while protesting abuses committed during nearly three decades of TPLF rule.

In the state media interview which aired Wednesday, Feyisa said he would relish the chance to fight the TPLF himself.

“When a country is violated, there is no way I will stand by and just watch,” he said.

A separate state media report quoted Ethiopia’s most famous distance-running champion, Haile Gebreselassie, as saying he, too, would fight at the front.

But footage of the interview did not air and AFP could not independently verify it.

AFP

Tigray Conflict: Scores Of Children In Hospitals Die Of Starvation

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 22, 2020 a member of the Amhara Special Forces stands at the border crossing as people cross from Eritrea, in Humera, Ethiopia. AFP

 

Nearly 200 young children have died of starvation in hospitals across Ethiopia’s Tigray region as malnutrition soars one year after a brutal conflict broke out, according to a new survey.

The data collected from 14 hospitals offers a rare look at the scale of suffering in Tigray, which is grappling with a communications blackout and what the UN describes as a de facto aid blockade, meaning most essential medical supplies are no longer available.

Yet the toll is hardly comprehensive, given that most health facilities are not functional and Tigrayan health workers have only been able to reach roughly half of the region’s districts, said Dr Hagos Godefay, head of the health bureau in Tigray’s pre-war government.

Hagos described the unpublished findings, some of which were collected in partnership with Mekele University in Tigray’s capital, in an interview with AFP this week.

“We have registered more than 186 deaths,” Hagos said, referring to fatalities caused by severe acute malnutrition in children younger than five. “We collected this information from hospitals only.”

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Some 29 per cent of children are acutely malnourished, up from nine per cent before the war, Hagos said.

(FILES) Children look at books in the library of an elementary school that was damaged during the fighting that broke out in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, in the village of Bisober.  AFP

 

For severe acute malnutrition, the figure is 7.1 per cent, up from 1.3 per cent before the war, he said.

Only 14 per cent of surveyed households report having enough access to food, down from 60 per cent, he said, adding that he fears what is unfolding in areas his teams have so far been unable to reach.

“For those areas that are not accessible, you can only imagine how many children are dying because of starvation. They are living in remote areas, there is no water… there is no food, no communication, no health facility,” he said.

“So I am telling you if we go to the remote areas it will double for sure.”

 ‘It’s catastrophic’

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray last November to topple the regional ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps.

The 2019 Nobel Peace laureate promised a swift victory, but by late June the TPLF had retaken most of the region including Mekele and has since advanced south.

Since mid-July less than 15 per cent of needed aid has been able to enter Tigray, according to the UN, raising the spectre of the kind of mass starvation that turned Ethiopia into a byword for famine in the 1980s.

AFP has previously documented scattered starvation deaths in multiple parts of Tigray, describing how mothers feed leaves to their children in a desperate bid to keep them alive.

The survey findings Hagos described covering the four months from late June, when the TPLF retook control of Mekele, to late October.

The 14 hospitals still functioning in the region are each recording between three and four deaths weekly due to ordinarily treatable illnesses like pneumonia and diarrhoea, Hagos said.

He added he was especially worried for tens of thousands of Tigrayans under “chronic follow-up”, including 55,000 HIV-positive patients and others battling conditions like cancer, hypertension and diabetes.

“If we are not able to manage them, if we are not able to provide them drugs… it’s catastrophic,” he said.

 ‘Frustrated’ doctors

Abiy’s government has rejected claims it is blocking aid to Tigray, saying access has been restricted because of TPLF advances into neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions.

In an interview with CNN last week, Abiy’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum said “the onus of responsibility on humanitarian access… is on the TPLF”.

The US, however, has said access to essential supplies and services was “being denied by the Ethiopian government” while denouncing “indications of a siege”.

And aid workers have sounded the alarm about government-imposed restrictions on medicines entering the region.

Hagos said that with health facilities damaged across Tigray, banking services suspended and supply stocks now empty, there is little health workers can do.

“The commitment from the health workforce is really amazing. They just want to work even without having a salary, but they don’t have food to eat,” he said.

As foreign envoys scramble to end the conflict, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken due in neighbouring Kenya early Wednesday, the TPLF has said lifting the “siege” of Tigray is a condition for any ceasefire.

Hagos, too, said it was a must, describing the current situation as “collective punishment”.

“The rights of the people of Tigray are not what we are negotiating here,” he said.

“If negotiations are to be done, they can only be on issues concerning a political settlement.”

Over A Dozen Local UN Staff Held In Ethiopia

In this file photo taken on August 01, 2019 Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gives a press conference at the Prime Minister’s office in the capital, Addis Ababa. MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP

 

More than a dozen Ethiopian staffers working for the United Nations have been arrested in Addis Ababa in raids targeting ethnic Tigrayans under a state of emergency, UN and humanitarian sources told AFP Tuesday.

“Some of them were taken from their homes,” one of the sources said, while a UN spokeswoman in Geneva said requests for their release had been submitted to the foreign ministry.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government announced a six-month nationwide emergency a week ago amid rising fears that fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) rebel groups could advance on the capital.

Human rights groups including Amnesty have denounced the emergency measures, which allow for anyone suspected of supporting “terrorist groups” to be searched and held without a warrant.

READ ALSO: Ethiopia’s Oromo Rebel Leader Predicts Victory ‘Very Soon’

Lawyers say arbitrary detentions of ethnic Tigrayans — commonplace during the war — have spiked in the last week, ensnaring thousands.

Law enforcement officials describe such detentions as part of a legitimate crackdown on the TPLF and OLA.

Tensions between Abiy’s government and the UN have been high throughout the war, which has left thousands dead and, according to UN estimates, pushed hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions.

In late September Ethiopia’s foreign ministry announced it was expelling seven senior UN officials for “meddling” in the country’s affairs.

Abiy sent troops into Tigray in November 2020 to topple the TPLF, but by late June the TPLF had regrouped and retaken most of the region.

Since then Tigray has been under what the UN describes as a de facto aid blockade.

UN security officers “have visited the detained colleagues”, a UN spokeswoman in Geneva told AFP Tuesday.

“Notes verbales have also been sent to the Minister of Foreign Affairs to request the immediate release of the detained personnel,” the spokeswoman said.

A spokesperson for the world body in Ethiopia, meanwhile, said the UN was “in the process of verifying and following up on the reports of arrests related to its staff members”.

“The safety and security of UN staff remain at the highest priority for the UN in Ethiopia,” the spokesperson said.

AFP

Ethiopia’s Oromo Rebel Leader Predicts Victory ‘Very Soon’

In this file photo taken on June 20, 2021 Local farmers walk next to a damaged tank that is abandoned along the road in Dansa, southwest of Mekele in Tigray region, Ethiopia. Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP

 

A rebel leader fighting Ethiopia’s government has said his troops are near the capital and preparing another attack, predicting the war will end “very soon” as diplomats rush to negotiate a ceasefire.

Jaal Marroo, commander of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), warned Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed that pro-government fighters were defecting and the rebels were very close to victory.

“What I am sure (of) is that it is going to end very soon,” Jaal, whose real name is Kumsa Diriba, told AFP in a phone interview on Sunday.

“We are preparing to push for another launch, and for another attack. The government is just trying to buy time, and they are trying to instigate civil war in this country, so they are calling for the nation to fight.”

READ ALSO: UN Envoy Visits Tigray, Pleads For Humanitarian Access

The OLA and its allies, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), have claimed several victories in recent weeks, taking towns some 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the capital, and have not ruled out marching on Addis Ababa.

Jaal said his fighters were now just 40 kilometres from Addis and had “never moved (back) an inch” from territory they controlled.

AFP could not independently confirm his claim.

Much of the conflict-affected zone is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is restricted, making battlefield positions difficult to verify.

The government has rejected suggestions the rebels are within striking distance of Addis Ababa, but has ordered the capital to prepare to defend itself.

“While we are being tested on many fronts, our collective will to realise the path we have embarked upon has strengthened us,” Abiy said on Twitter on Monday, a day after tens of thousands marched in Addis Ababa in support of the government.

Government spokeswoman Selamawit Kassa said the military had carried out air strikes on Monday in Tigray and a “strategic” location between Amhara and Afar regions, without giving further details.

The rebels say they have taken key towns in southeastern Amhara, close to the Afar border.

Sweeping arrests

Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission on Monday expressed concern about a sweeping crackdown in Addis Ababa since a nationwide state of emergency was declared on November 2.

“The Commission… has verified that arrests are being conducted in a manner that seems to be based on identity and ethnicity,” it said, adding that those detained included mothers with children.

A number of countries have urged citizens not to travel to Ethiopia, and the US embassy announced over the weekend it was pulling out non-essential staff.

The UN has suspended non-essential travel to Addis Ababa, citing the “deterioration of security conditions in parts of Ethiopia, including the potential for a very serious security impact” in the capital, according to an internal communique dated Saturday and seen by AFP Monday.

Jaal said the OLA posed “no threat” to ordinary civilians but that Abiy and his ruling Prosperity Party have to be “completely removed and cleared” for reconciliation to begin.

“We will make Ethiopia — not just Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa — a peaceful, very stable place to live in. I am very confident there is not going to be conflict after Abiy Ahmed’s regime,” he said.

The OLA has been accused of multiple massacres of ethnic Amhara civilians — charges it denies.

 

Diplomatic efforts

The threat of fresh rebel advances has spurred efforts by foreign envoys to broker a settlement to a conflict that has killed thousands, displaced around two million, and inflicted atrocities and starvation on civilians.

The African Union’s high representative for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, on Monday told the bloc’s 15-member security body there could be an opening for a deal — but major obstacles remain.

Obasanjo, who on Sunday met TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael, did not discuss the sticking points during his briefings.

But diplomats familiar with the negotiations said the TPLF will not talk until aid restrictions on Tigray are lifted, while the government wants the rebels to withdraw from Amhara and Afar first.

“What we felt from (Obasanjo’s) briefing is everybody is somehow a little bit open to a political settlement, but it’s not clear” how gaps would be bridged, said a diplomat who attended Monday’s briefing.

Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops into Tigray in November last year to topple the TPLF, accusing them of attacking military bases.

In August, the OLA and TPLF — both designated terrorist groups by the government — announced they had brokered an alliance to fight against a common enemy, despite the two groups holding historic grievances.

 

AFP

UN Envoy Visits Tigray, Pleads For Humanitarian Access

Children displaced by fighting in northern Ethiopia play among sacks of clothes at the Addis Fana School where they are temporary sheltered, in the city of Dessie, Ethiopia, on August 23, 2021 (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP)

 

The UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs visited Ethiopia’s Tigray region Sunday, pleading for greater access for aid to civilians amid escalating clashes between rebel and government forces.

During a visit to Tigrayan capital Mekele, Martin Griffiths met with the region’s “de facto authorities” and insisted on “the need for humanitarian access and protection of civilians through all areas under their control,” according to a UN spokesperson.

Griffiths later returned to Addis Ababa.

READ ALSO: ECOWAS Imposes Fresh Sanctions On Mali, Guinea

Other sources said Griffiths was in Mekele at the same time as Olusegun Obasanjo, the African Union’s high representative for the Horn of Africa, who was there to meet with Debretsion Gebremichael, head of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

The TPLF, which long held power in Ethiopia, was ousted by Abiy Ahmed, who became prime minister in 2018 amid anti-government protests.

Gebremichael then withdrew to Tigray, the northernmost region in Ethiopia.

After months of tension, Abiy Ahmed — who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 — sent the Ethiopian army to Tigray in November 2020 to remove the TPLF-backed regional authorities, who continued to defy his authority and whom he accused of attacking military bases.

Ahmed soon proclaimed victory, but TPLF fighters in June regained control of much of the region, before advancing into the adjoining regions of Afar and Amhara.

Recently the conflict has again escalated, with rebel forces advancing toward Addis Ababa, intent on overthrowing Ahmed.

Despite an intense flurry of diplomatic activity, the belligerents on both sides have been unmoved by calls from the international community for a cease-fire.

AFP

UN Decries ‘Extreme Brutality’ In Ethiopia Tigray War

In this file photo taken on September 23, 2019 the United Nations flag is seen during the Climate Action Summit 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly Hall. Ludovic MARIN / AFP

 

The UN rights chief on Wednesday slammed the “extreme brutality” of the year-long war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, voicing alarm that a recent state of emergency would inflame the situation.

Speaking in Geneva, Michelle Bachelet insisted on the need to bring to justice perpetrators of a vast array of rights abuses, including horrific killings and the gang rape of mothers in front of their children.

“Civilians in Tigray have been subjected to brutal violence and suffering,” she told reporters.

The “extreme brutality” underscores “the need to hold perpetrators accountable on all sides,” she said.

A joint investigation by her office and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) into abuses warned of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by all sides during the the Tigray conflict.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into the northern region in November 2020 to detain and disarm the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), whom he accused of attacking army camps.

Since then, thousands of people have been killed in the conflict, and hundreds of thousands of others have been forced into famine-like conditions, according to the UN.

Wednesday’s joint report, which covers the period from last November through June, when the Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire, found evidence of “serious abuses and violations” by all sides.

There were “reasonable grounds to believe that a number of these violations may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes,” it added.

Bachelet voiced alarm that the situation has since deteriorated, particularly since Ethiopia declared a nationwide state of emergency on Tuesday amid fears Tigrayan rebels were heading for the capital.

– ‘Over the edge’ –

“This risks compounding an already very serious human rights situation in the country,” Bachelet said.

“The risks are grave that… these extremely broad measures … will deepen divisions, endanger civil society and human rights defenders, provoke greater conflict and only add to the human suffering already at unacceptable levels.”

Bachelet said most of the violations documented in Wednesday’s report were carried out by Ethiopian forces and Eritrean troops, who have provided military support to Addis Ababa.

But since June an increasing number of violations by the TPLF had been documented, she said.

In response, Abiy said his government took “seriously” the “troubling” allegations of violations committed by Ethiopian forces and was “committed to bring perpetrators to justice” but rejected allegations of genocide.

The findings “have clearly established the claim of genocide as false and utterly lacking of any factual basis,” he said.

Bachelet insisted further investigation was needed.

Investigators say they faced significant security, operational and administrative challenges and were unable to carry out all planned visits in parts of Tigray.

– Gang rapes –

The TPLF branded EHRC involvement “an affront to the notion of impartiality,” before the report came out.

The Ethiopian government said its participation proved it is serious about addressing rights abuses.

Ethiopia expelled seven UN officials last month, including one of the UN investigators.

The report, based on 269 interviews with victims and witnesses, described endemic torture, people beaten with electric cables and metal pipes, intentionally starved, and the gang rapes of children, men and women.

It detailed how thousands of civilians were forced to flee as a result of killings, rapes, destruction and looting of property, fears of reprisals and ethnic and identity-based attacks, particularly in western Tigray.

The report highlighted abuses carried out by Eritrean troops who forcefully returned Eritrean refugees in Tigray to Eritrea.

The investigators reported that a 16-year-old boy was allegedly raped by nine Eritrean soldiers and later committed suicide.

The report urged Eritrea to release all Eritrean refugees forcibly returned to the country and recommended that the UN consider creating an international team tasked with gathering evidence for possible future criminal prosecution.

Tigray Crisis: UN Calls For More Probe Into Genocide Claims

Albab Tesfaye (R), Director of Office of Chief Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, addresses the public during the press conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. AFP

 

The UN rights chief said Wednesday more investigation was needed into allegations of genocide in the Tigray conflict, countering Ethiopia’s claims the allegations had been definitively refuted in a fresh report.

A widely-awaited report published Wednesday by the UN rights office and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) into abuses since the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region exploded a year ago painted a bleak picture.

It found evidence of “serious abuses and violations” by all sides in the conflict, pointing to summary executions, torture, forced displacement and rape, and said there were “reasonable grounds to believe that a number of these violations may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes”.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed meanwhile highlighted that the report presented no evidence that genocide had occurred.

READ ALSO: UN Decries ‘Extreme Brutality’ Of Ethiopia’s Tigray Conflict

The findings, he said in a statement, “have clearly established the claim of genocide as false and utterly lacking of any factual basis.”

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet however said the findings were not so clear-cut when reporters asked about genocide allegations.

“On the issue of genocide, well, I think that in a number of cases there was a disturbing suggestion of ethnically-motivated violations,” Bachelet said.

“The report did not have sufficient evidence to characterise more generally the extent of the nature of the ethnic-based crimes,” she acknowledged, “but they clearly warrant further investigation.”

Bachelet stressed that the joint team had carried out a human rights investigation, and not a criminal investigation aimed at gathering evidence that can be used in a court of law.

Whether any violations committed in the conflict constituted international crimes, like war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, would need to be determined by a competent criminal court, she said.

 

Ethiopia Launches Air Strikes In Northern And Western Tigray

(FILES) Ethiopian forces hit the Tigrayan capital of Mekele with air strikes on October 18, 2021, humanitarian officials and diplomats told AFP, in a new phase of the nearly year-long war in the country’s north. (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP)

 

Ethiopia’s military on Sunday launched two airstrikes on what a government official said were rebel-held facilities in Tigray, capping a week of near-daily attacks in the war-torn northern region.

The strikes, far from the regional capital Mekele, signalled the military was potentially widening its campaign of aerial bombardments which has drawn international rebukes and disrupted UN flights to the famine-threatened territory.

“Today the western front of (Mai Tsebri) which was serving as a training and military command post for the terrorist group TPLF has been the target of an air strike,” government spokeswoman Selamawit Kassa said, referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Later, Selamawit said the same mission destroyed a separate facility in the northern town of Adwa used to manufacture “military equipments” as well as fake military uniforms used by TPLF combatants.

TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said on Twitter that the target in Mai Tsebri was a hospital, and that the target in Adwa was a textiles factory that was looted in an earlier stage of the conflict by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers.

Selamawit, however, said the Mai Tsebri strike “only targeted… a military training and command base” of the TPLF, while confirming that Getachew was correct about the textiles factory.

The TPLF has condemned earlier strikes as evidence of the government’s disregard for civilian lives.

There was no immediate information on casualties in either Mai Tsebri or Adwa.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has been locked in a war against the TPLF since last November, though Tigray itself had seen little combat since late June, when the rebels seized control of much of Ethiopia’s northernmost region and the military largely withdrew.

But on Monday Ethiopia’s air force launched two strikes on Tigray’s capital Mekele that the UN said killed three children and wounded several other people.

Since then there have been three more strikes on Mekele and another targeting what the government described as a weapons cache in the town of Agbe, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) to the west.

The strikes coincide with ramped-up fighting in Amhara region, south of Tigray.

They have drawn rebukes from Western powers, with the US last week condemning “the continuing escalation of violence, putting civilians in harm’s way”.

UN suspends flights

A strike Friday on Mekele forced a UN flight carrying 11 humanitarian personnel to turn back to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, and the UN subsequently announced it was suspending its twice-weekly flights to the region.

Getachew on Friday criticised the air force for putting the UN flight at risk.

“Our air defense units knew the UN plane was scheduled to land & it was due in large measure to their restraint it was not caught in a crossfire,” Getachew said on Twitter.

The TPLF issued a statement Saturday saying the incident revealed the government’s “intention to continue obstructing humanitarian operations”.

The conflict has spurred fears of widespread starvation, as the UN estimates it has pushed 400,000 people in Tigray into famine-like conditions.

US Condemns New ‘Escalation Of Violence’ In Ethiopia’s Tigray

 In this file photo taken on February 26, 2021 A damaged tank stands on a road north of Mekele, the capital of Tigray. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
In this file photo taken on February 26, 2021 A damaged tank stands on a road north of Mekele, the capital of Tigray. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

 

The United States on Wednesday condemned Ethiopia for an “escalation” of violence after the military carried out fresh air strikes in the Tigray region.

“We have seen the credible reports of attacks in and around Mekele. The United States condemns the continuing escalation of violence, putting civilians in harm’s way,” State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted from Bogota, where US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is visiting.

READ ALSO: Ethiopia Launches New Air Strike On Tigray Capital

“The government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front must end hostilities and begin talks now,” Price said.

The United States is a longstanding ally of Ethiopia but has voiced growing frustration with the military campaign launched by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed nearly a year ago following an attack by the TPLF, the region’s former ruling party, on an army camp.

Ethiopia Launches New Air Strike On Tigray Capital

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 26, 2021 A damaged tank stands on a road north of Mekele, the capital of Tigray. (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP)

 

Ethiopia’s military launched a new air strike on the Tigrayan capital Mekele on Wednesday, the second round of bombardments this week against rebel targets in the city.

The raids mark a sharp escalation in the brutal year-long conflict in northern Ethiopia pitting government forces and their allies against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Tigray’s once dominant ruling party.

“It targeted at the facilities that TPLF have turned into arms construction and repair armaments sites,” government spokesman Legesse Tulu told AFP by text message.

Dr Hayelom Kebede, research director at Mekele’s Ayder Referral Hospital, said eight people had been wounded, including a pregnant woman.

“It was heavy and the jet was so close,” one local resident told AFP, with witnesses reporting thick clouds of smoke rising up over the city.

The conflict has already killed untold numbers of people and triggered a deep humanitarian crisis, with the United Nations saying up to two million people have been displaced and hundreds of thousands plunged into famine-like conditions.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government, barely two weeks into its new term, seems to be waging a new offensive against the TPLF, which dominated national politics for almost three decades before he took power in 2018.

William Davison, the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Ethiopia, said the strikes “appear to be part of efforts to weaken Tigray’s armed resistance,” with the TPLF making gains in areas of the Amhara region to the south of Tigray.

“Along with superior manpower, control of the skies is one of the few remaining areas of military advantage for the federal government.”

‘Surgical operations’

TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said Wednesday’s bombing raid had targeted a residential area of Mekele “causing injury to civilians and harm to property”.

“Abiy’s reaction to his losses in the ongoing fighting is to target civilians hundreds of kms away from the battlefield,” he said on Twitter.

Much of northern Ethiopia is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is restricted, making claims difficult to independently verify.

Tigray, a region of five million people, remains under a de facto blockade, with the warring parties each accusing the other of hampering the delivery of desperately needed aid.

Legesse, the government spokesman, said the targeted site had been “appropriated by the TPLF as a heavy weapons storage, manufacturing and repair site” and accused the TPLF of using ordinary people as human shields.

“We confirm and assure these surgical operations have not any intended harm to civilians,” he said.

On Monday, there were two aerial assaults on Mekele, the city held by the TPLF since it was recaptured from government forces in June.

Legesse had initially denied those raids but state media later confirmed the air force had hit TPLF media and communications infrastructure.

The United Nations said Monday’s attacks had killed three children and wounded nine people, and voiced alarm about the intensifying conflict in Africa’s second most populous country.

‘Strengthening Tigrayan resolve’

“The bombing of urban areas… reinforces the impression that Addis Ababa is willing to risk civilian lives in Tigray as part of its military efforts, something also demonstrated by the continued federal constraints on aid flows and refusal to provide electricity, banking, and telecommunications services to the region,” the ICG’s Davison said.

“As such, the air raids may have the effect of strengthening the Tigrayan resolve to resist, rather than weaken it.”

Fighting first erupted last November after Abiy — the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner — sent troops to Tigray to topple the TPLF.

He said the move came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps and promised a swift victory.

But in a dramatic turnaround, by late June the TPLF had regrouped and retaken most of the region including Mekele.

Since then, the rebels have pushed south from Tigray into the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar.

The UN says up to seven million people in the three regions are now in need of food assistance and other emergency support.

The conflict has seen relations between Ethiopia and the West deteriorate, with its crucial ally Washington calling for sanctions if the warring parties do not commit to a negotiated settlement.

Air Strikes Hit Capital Of Ethiopia’s Tigray

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 26, 2021 A damaged tank stands on a road north of Mekele, the capital of Tigray. – (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP)

 

Ethiopian forces hit the Tigrayan capital of Mekele with air strikes on Monday, humanitarian officials and diplomats told AFP, in a new phase of the nearly year-long war in the country’s north.

They are the first reported air raids in Mekele since the conflict erupted in November last year, although there have been others in the Tigray region.

“Air strike now in Mekele,” one humanitarian official in the city said via SMS to AFP on condition of anonymity, describing attacks also confirmed by a second humanitarian source, two diplomats and a rebel spokesman.

The first air raid occurred in the morning on the outskirts of Mekele near a cement factory, the sources said.

The second took place around midday in the city centre near the Planet Hotel, often used by top officials from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the region’s former ruling party and the target of a government military operation since November 2020.

The TPLF said the aerial assaults were designed to inflict civilian casualties.

“Monday is market day in Mekelle & the intention is all too palpable,” TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said on Twitter.

The reports could not be independently verified and government officials could not be reached for comment.

Medical officials in Mekele could not immediately be reached to provide information on casualties.

The strikes come as the government appeared to be pursuing a new offensive in the war against the TPLF, which dominated national politics before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018.

There were reports last week of fresh clashes between government and rebel forces in Afar, a region bordering Tigray, where fighting has also spread.

Ethiopia Forces Strike Tigray Rebels In ‘Massive’ Move

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed HO / Ethiopian TV / AFP

 

Ethiopian troops and their allies have launched air and ground strikes against Tigray rebels in the northern region of Amhara, humanitarian and rebel sources told AFP, amid growing speculation of a major offensive.

A spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has been locked in a brutal conflict with pro-government forces in northern Ethiopia for 11 months, said Saturday there was a “massive move” against the rebels.

Just five days ago, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was sworn in for a new term after a landslide election win, vowing to defend “Ethiopia’s honour” despite mounting international criticism of the war and alarm about the desperate humanitarian crisis it has triggered.

TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said there had been “mostly air, drone and artillery bombardment” of rebels, and reported a major troop build-up, saying “tens of thousands are amassed” in northern Amhara including the North Gondar and North Wollo zones.

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“We are confident we will thwart the offensive in all fronts and more,” he said. “We will stand our ground until the siege is lifted.”

Humanitarian sources told AFP that federal soldiers and Amhara regional troops had conducted air and ground offensives around North Wollo and other locations on Thursday and Friday.

Representatives from Amhara, as well as federal and military officials, did not respond to requests for comment and the reported military operations could not be independently confirmed by AFP.

Threat of sanctions

The war erupted last November when Abiy — winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize — sent troops into Tigray to topple the TPLF, the regional ruling party and former national rulers, a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.

Although government forces quickly took control of Tigray’s cities and towns, the TPLF recaptured most of the region including the capital Mekele by late June, and Abiy later declared a unilateral ceasefire.

But fighting, which has since spread to neighbouring Amhara and Afar, has created what the UN calls an “immense humanitarian crisis” with hundreds of thousands of people driven into famine-like conditions.

Untold numbers of civilians have been killed, nearly two million have been displaced, and there have been many reports of atrocities including massacres and mass rape.

The US has threatened sanctions against the warring parties if they fail to commit to a negotiated settlement to end a conflict that threatens to destabilise Africa’s second most populous nation.

Warning of ‘catastrophe’

The former chief of staff in the Abiy-appointed Tigray interim adminstration told AFP Saturday that federal officials had long resisted their entreaties to pursue talks.

“If this force (Ethiopia’s army) is able to penetrate into Tigray, that will be a catastrophe,” said Gebremeskel Kassa, an outspoken critic of Eritrean forces fighting alongside Ethiopian soldiers in the region.

Gebremeskel, who fled Tigray in June, said he had now left the country fearing for his safety and was seeking asylum abroad.

There has been speculation the fighting could pick up now the rainy season is ending, and with mass mobilisation throughout the country and in Amhara in particular.

On Thursday, the Amhara region’s spokesman said on Twitter: “Since an operation to free our people who are in trouble because of the terrorist TPLF could be conducted at any time, in all fronts, we all have to be vigilant 24 hours a day.”

Abiy’s government sparked global outrage last week when it expelled senior UN officials for “meddling” in Ethiopia’s affairs, exacerbating concerns about the humanitarian crisis.

UN chief Antonio Guterres, who has said more than five million people were in need of assistance, on Wednesday urged the Ethiopian authorities to allow the UN to deliver aid “without hindrance”.

Tigray is under a de facto blockade that is preventing most aid from getting in. Ethiopian officials blame the TPLF for obstructing deliveries, but the US has said access to essential supplies and services was being denied by the Ethiopian government.

The UN’s humanitarian agency OCHA in recent days warned that a lack of medical supplies was also having fatal consequences in Tigray and reported alarming levels of malnutrition among children and pregnant women.

Meanwhile, voters in southwestern Ethiopia overwhelmingly backed the creation of a new region in a September referendum, the election board announced Saturday, according to state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate.

The upper house of parliament is expected to formally approve the establishment of the South West region, which would be Ethiopia’s 11th.

 

AFP