Tigray forces fire rockets into neighbouring region of Ethiopia
Tigray forces fired rockets at a neighbouring state on Friday, heightening fears the internal conflict could spread to other parts of the country, a day after Ethiopia said its forces were closing in on the dissident region’s capital Mekele.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, unleashed a military campaign in the Tigray region on November 4 with the declared aim of unseating its ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which he accuses of defying his government and seeking to destabilise it.
Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed in the conflict in Africa’s second-most populous country, while tens of thousands have fled fighting and airstrikes in Tigray, crossing to neighbouring Sudan.
Abiy this week insisted the military operation was in its final phase. Redwan Hussein, the spokesman for an Ethiopian crisis committee handling the conflict, said that “our defence forces are moving forward and closing in on Mekele.”
An official in Ethiopia’s Amhara state said TPLF forces fired rockets at the regional capital, Bahir Dar, early Friday morning.
Last week, the TPLF also fired rockets at Asmara, the capital of neighbouring Eritrea which it accuses of backing the Ethiopian advance. Both Eritrea and Ethiopia deny the allegation.
Amhara communications official, Gizachew Muluneh, said the three TPLF rockets had all missed their targets, resulting in neither casualties nor damage with two rockets striking near the airport and a third hitting a maize field.
“My suspicion is they were targeting the Amhara Mass Media Agency, the airport and a telecommunications tower that is nearby,” Gizachew said.
The TPLF on Friday accused government forces of an attack on the university in Mekele injuring an unspecified number of students. There was no immediate response from the government in Addis Ababa, which insists all airstrikes are aimed at military targets.
From feuding to fighting
The TPLF led the overthrow of Mengistu Hailemariam, head of Ethiopia’s military Derg regime, in 1991 and dominated politics for three decades until the arrival of Abiy who was appointed in 2018.
The party has complained about being sidelined and blamed for the country’s woes. The bitter feud with the central government this year led the TPLF to hold their own elections in defiance of a postponement due to the pandemic.
International calls for peace have escalated along with the fighting.
US officials said Thursday they had urged de-escalation from both Abiy and the TPLF leadership but saw little prospect for negotiations.
“At this point neither party, from everything we hear, is interested in mediation,” said Tibor Nagy, the top US diplomat for Africa.
Abiy has insisted the military operation’s narrow target is the “reactionary and rogue” members of the TPLF, and not ordinary Tigrayan civilians.
But observers have voiced concern about Tigrayans losing their jobs or being arrested for their ethnicity.
On Thursday, Ethiopia’s army head Berhanu Jula accused World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who served as health minister under TPLF leader Meles Zenawi, of working with the TPLF.
“He has worked in neighbouring countries to condemn the war. He has worked for them to get weapons,” said Berhanu, without offering evidence to support the claims.
Tedros denied the accusation on Twitter, saying, “I am on only one side and that is the side of peace.”
Casualties and refugees
The conflict started when Abiy accused TPLF forces of attacking two federal military camps in the region. Since then, his controversial campaign has seen warplanes bombing Tigray and heavy fighting, while Amnesty International has documented a gruesome massacre.
Air Force chief Yilma Merdasa told state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate admitted they were also deploying drones, but denied claims from Tigray that these were coming from abroad.
“This is a time where we can fight with a button. Sitting at home, pressing the button to destroy the target.
“So, one of the air force capabilities we’re fighting with … are UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). This UAV is however inside the air force, that we operate from here.”
A communications blackout in Tigray has made claims difficult to verify, but the overall death toll is believed to be in the hundreds.
Meanwhile, the UN says a “full-scale humanitarian crisis” is unfolding, with 36,000 people having streamed into neighbouring Sudan, according to that country’s refugee commission.