France 24
France 24 16 Nov 2020

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. FRANCE 24's Chief Foreing Editor Rob Parsons tells us more.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has announced that his army is now "fully in control" of Tigray's regional capital of Mekele. The leader of the rebellious Tigray forces, however, says the conflict will continue. Tigray rebels, meanwhile, claimed fighters have shot down a federal military jet and retaken the town of Axum. Claims from both sides are difficult to verify as phone and internet links to the region have been down and access tightly controlled. Abiy's government had been trying to suppress a rebellion from the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), a powerful ethnically based party that dominated the region from 1991 until Abiy came to power in 2018.

Thousands of people are believed to have been killed in Tigray since an offensive by Ethiopian forces in the region began on November 4. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Sunday that hospitals in Mekele are running "dangerously low" on supplies to care for the wounded. It said a referral hospital in the city is lacking body bags for the dead and is running low on basic supplies such as gloves. The UNHCR said they are very concerned about the fate of nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees there amid reports that some have beena bducted. Additionally, according to the UNHCR, nearly 44,000 people have fled the region to neighboring Sudan, which lacks the infrastructure to handle the influx of refugees.
Ethiopian government troops will soon launch a "final and crucial" offensive in the country's northern Tigray region after security forces there failed to respond to a deadline to surrender, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Tuesday. "The three-day deadline given for Tigray special forces and the greedy junta to surrender themselves has expired today," Abiy said in a statement. "Now the deadline has expired so that the final and crucial law enforcement operation will be conducted in the coming days," he added. Fighting between the Addis Ababa administration and the Tigray region began in early November after Abiy ordered soldiers to put down an uprising by the region's ruling political party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). The party is now classed as a rebel group by the government.

Since taking office in 2018, Abiy — who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his work to improve relations with neighboring Eritrea — has been at loggerheads with the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopian politics for a long time. Among other things, he has purged Tigray elites from government and state institutions amid differences fueled by ethnic tensions. In particular, the Ethiopian government was angered after the TPLF held a local election in September in defiance of Addis Ababa. In its turn, the regional government in Tigray considers the federal government illegal, saying its mandate has expired after national elections were postponed until next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ongoing conflict has already resulted in the massacre of "scores, and likely hundreds" of civilians in Tigray, according to rights group Amnesty International. Some 25,000 have fled to Sudan.

Abiy's remarks come after the Ethiopian army on Monday carried out fresh airstrikes on the regional capital of Mekele. A government statement on Tuesday said "precision-led and surgical air operations" had targeted "specific critical TPLF targets." Ethiopia has denied reports of there being civilian casualties. The UN has warned that the conflict could "spiral totally out of control" with disastrous consequences for the Horn of Africa. The TPLF has accused Ethiopia of enlisting Eritrean soldiers to help in the conflict, which Ethiopia also denies. Abiy has so far rejected all appeals by the international community to resolve the conflict with dialogue.
Violence continues in Ethiopia as the country's military says it is "pounding targets with precision" in the northern Tigray region. Our correspondent reports. Also, Ivory Coast's constitutional court has validated President Alassane Ouattara's reelection to a third term. But opposition leaders continue to call for the formation of a rival transitional government. And as the world reacts to the election of Joe Biden, so too does Africa. While heads of state struck a diplomatic tone, NGOs and activists made it clear that Donald Trump will not be missed.
The conflict in northern Ethiopia is threatening to spill over the country's borders and could set off a humanitarian crisis, say analysts.
The Ethiopian federal army seized the airport near the town of Humera on Tuesday amid a nearly week-old conflict in the northern Tigray region.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed started an offensive in Tigray last week, after accusing local forces in the area of attacking a military base.
Since then, hundreds have been killed and about 2,500 people have fled to neighbouring Sudan.

Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow reports from Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa.

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