Ethiopia Says Town Seized In Tigray, Conflict Embroils Eritrea
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.
- Last Updated: November 16, 2020, 14:18 IST
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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 jeopardise 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, Africa’s youngest leader, to manage the conflict said federal 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.
“Residents say many youth above the age of 14 had already fled the area for fear of being recruited by TPLF.”
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 regional state, about 120 km (75 miles) from Tigray’s capital Mekelle.
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, 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.
The Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) has around 140,000 personnel and plenty of experience from fighting Islamist militants in Somalia, rebel groups in border regions and a two-decade border standoff with Eritrea.
But many senior officers were 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 United States’ 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 liberalise the economy and opening a repressive political system.
The United Nations and others have urged Abiy to negotiate with the Tigrayans and there have been reports Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s government could mediate. But Abiy’s Tigray task force denied that and reiterated it was committed to “upholding rule of law” in Tigray.
It has previously said there will be no talks until Tigrayan leaders are arrested.
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