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Civil war breaks out in northern Ethiopia

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians light candles and pray for peace at Medhane Alem Cathedral in Addis Ababa this Thursday, November 5.Mulugeta Ayene / AP

Civil war has broken out in Ethiopia. The Army launched an armed offensive on Wednesday against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), in rebellion against the federal government for months and which Addis Ababa accused of attacking a military base causing many deaths, injuries and material damage. Both sides have confirmed the outbreak of the conflict. The Ethiopian Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize 2019, Abiy Ahmed, assured this Friday through Twitter that “the operations underway in northern Ethiopia have clear, limited and achievable objectives: to restore the rule of law and constitutional order. and protect the rights of Ethiopians to live in peace in any part of the country ”.

A roar of shelling in western Tigray has been heard from the border Amhara region, a humanitarian worker told Reuters. A strong mobilization of government troops has headed north, as warplanes fly over Mekele, the Tigray capital. These are, for now, the evidences of the beginning of the military operations. The airspace has been closed for commercial traffic and the Internet has been blocked since Wednesday, making it difficult to obtain more details of what is happening in the African country.

The Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has shown his deep concern over the outbreak of the conflict. “The stability of Ethiopia [con más de 100 millones de habitantes] it is important for the entire Horn of Africa region. I urge an immediate de-escalation of tensions and a peaceful resolution of the dispute, “he wrote this Friday on his Twitter account. The Tigray region borders Eritrea, a country that had a two-decade conflict with Ethiopia, and there are fears of regional destabilization.

“Our country has entered a conflict that it did not foresee. This war is unexpected and senseless, ”said General Berhanu Jula, Deputy Chief of the Ethiopian Armed Forces General Staff during a press conference in Addis Ababa. “We are doing everything possible so that the war does not reach the center of the country. It will end in the north, ”he added. At the moment there is no official balance of the conflict.

For its part, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) claimed that the Ethiopian government fabricated the attack on a military base to justify its military intervention. “This is an invasion”, assured the president of the region, Debretsion Gebremichael, at a press conference this Thursday. “We are waging this war to preserve our existence. We are prepared to be martyrs ”, he added. The leader of Tigray (population about 5.2 million) confirmed that fighting was taking place in the west and that the Ethiopian Army had shelled Tigray positions near Mekele. Also that it was accumulating troops in the border areas of the Amhara and Afar regions, south and east of Tigray.

A regional government that Addis Ababa does not recognize

Despite the fact that this community represents only 6% of the Ethiopian population, the TPLF was the dominant group in the federation of multi-ethnic parties that dominated the political scene for almost three decades. However, the coming to power of Oromo Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018 with his new philosophy of overcoming ethnic differences and his commitment to an Ethiopian citizenship has been perceived by Northerners as marginalization. The Tigray leaders left the ruling coalition, renamed the Prosperity Party (PP). In September, they stood up to the prime minister by holding regional elections in the north on his own, despite the fact that the central government had decreed a postponement of all elections that were to be held this year in the country due to the pandemic.

Since then, the TPLF renewed its overwhelming majority in the regional Parliament and continues to lead the Tigray Executive. But neither Addis Ababa recognizes this new regional government, nor does the TPLF recognize the legitimacy of the federal Executive led by Abiy Ahmed. For this reason, Addis Ababa has been cutting ties and funding with the rebel region. The hostilities were on the rise until Ahmed on Wednesday accused the TPLF of having been arming militias for weeks and, what is more serious, of the alleged attack on a military base. The answer was imminent. The Council of Ministers approved the state of emergency in Tigray, later validated by Parliament, and the Nobel Peace Prize declared war.