Asmara (Canadian Press), November 5th, 2020. The army are preparing for a second day of clashes in Tigray National Regional State borders, while the United Nations, European Unin, IGAD, African Union and the United States of America (WhiteHouse Desk) urged both Addis Ababa and Gonder to step back from a conflict that risks erupting into a full-blown civil war in Ethiopia as well as Eritrea against TPLF region.
Meanwhile, the “Ethiopia near civil war as PM sends army into defiant region”— Ethiopia approached civil war on Wednesday as its Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister ordered the military to confront the country’s well-armed Tigray regional government, accusing it of a deadly attack on a military base and declaring “the last red line has been crossed” after months of alleged provocations.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s move against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, in one of Africa’s most populous and powerful countries, sent a shock wave through the long-turbulent Horn of Africa region. Ethiopia’s neighbours include Somalia and Sudan, and the prospect of spreading instability sent a chill down observers’ spines.
Signalling the gravity of the threat, the United States in the midst of its election drama issued a statement urging “an immediate de-escalation.” The United Nations expressed “alarm” and made a similar plea.
“We have to guard against ‘just another tribal African war,’” former U.S. diplomat Payton Knopf told The Associated Press. “This is much more akin to what an inter-state war would look like,” with large and highly trained ground forces, mechanized units and heavy artillery. “This is not Syria, right? This is not Yemen. This is a different order of magnitude.” He compared Ethiopia to the former Yugoslavia.
Internet and phone lines were cut in Tigray, challenging efforts to verify the Ethiopian government’s account of events. A statement on Tigray TV accused the federal government of deploying troops to “cow the people of Tigray into submission by force” and said airspace over the region was closed.
The prime minister announced “several martyrs” in the overnight attack in Mekele, the northern Tigray region’s capital, and Dansha town. The region is Ethiopia’s most sensitive, neighbouring Eritrea, which fought a long border war before the two countries made peace in 2018.
Abiy in a national address late Wednesday said the attack was aimed at making Ethiopia vulnerable to outside enemies, without naming names. The army late Wednesday said it had launched a counter-attack and asserted “massive” damage, and Abiy said the military will conduct further operations in the coming days.
Ethiopia declared a six-month state of emergency in Tigray on Wednesday, saying “illegal and violent activities” were threatening the country’s sovereignty. A Tigray TV report that the Ethiopian military’s northern command had defected to the Tigray government was “not true,” the prime minister’s office told the AP.
The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s military and governing coalition before Abiy took office in 2018 and announced sweeping political reforms that won him the Nobel last year. Those reforms, however, opened space for ethnic and other grievances. The TPLF, feeling marginalized by shifts in power, left the coalition last year.
Tigray officials have objected to the postponement of Ethiopia’s national election because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which extends Abiy’s stay in office. In September the region held an election that defied the federal government and increased tensions over a region of some 5 million people that, despite its small share of Ethiopia’s population of 110 million, has had outsize influence.
Last month, the federal government further angered the TPLF by moving to divert funding for Tigray to local administrations instead of the regional government.
On Monday, Tigray leader Debretsion Gebremichael warned a bloody conflict could erupt, accusing Ethiopian and Eritrean leaders of making “all necessary preparations to start war” against the region. There was no immediate Eritrea comment.
Ethiopia was already stressed by a dispute with Egypt over a massive Ethiopian dam project that has drawn rare attention by President Donald Trump to Africa, and by a multi-layer crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic and deadly ethnic violence.
Now the greatest test of Abiy’s rule has come, as the fighting in Tigray could inspire other restive regions in Ethiopia.
“This war is the worst possible outcome of the tensions that have been brewing,” said William Davison, International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Ethiopia. “Given Tigray’s relatively strong security position, the conflict may well be protracted and disastrous.”
Abiy’s statement alleging the overnight attack accused the TPLF of arming and organizing irregular militias in recent weeks. “TPLF has chosen to wage war,” his office said. “The last red line has been crossed with this morning’s attacks and the federal government is therefore forced into a military confrontation” to save the country.