Ethiopian government claims an attack on Tigray state capital Mekelle from multiple fronts is imminent.
Forces from Ethiopia’s Tigray region have fired rockets into the city of Bahir Dar in the neighbouring Amhara region but no casualties or damage were reported, the Amhara government said, as federal forces moved towards the Tigrayan capital.
“The illegal TPLF group launched a rocket attack around 01:40am [22:40 GMT on Thursday] in Bahir Dar,” Amhara regional government’s communications office said on its Facebook page on Friday, referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
“The rockets have caused no damage,” the post added.
The northern-based TPLF effectively governed Ethiopia for decades as the strongest force in a multi-ethnic coalition, until Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took power two years ago.
Abiy’s government says the TPLF has turned renegade and is holding power in Tigray illegally. Tensions escalated after the government accused TPLF of attacking federal troops.
But the TPLF says the war is part of an unconstitutional assault on regional rights. Both sides accuse the other of atrocities and blocking humanitarian aid.
Amhara, which has a long-running border dispute with Tigray, has sent regional forces in support of the federal troops.
The conflict in northern Ethiopia has killed hundreds over the past two weeks, sent 33,000 refugees into Sudan, and called into question whether Abiy – Africa’s youngest leader and last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner – can hold his ethnically divided nation together ahead of national elections next year.
He released thousands of political prisoners, lifted bans on many political parties and put many officials from the old regime on trial for crimes like murder or corruption. The Tigrayans accused him of purging them from positions of power, accusations his government denies.
There have also been reports of ethnically motivated killings.
International rights group Amnesty International documented a mass killing of civilians by what it says were Tigrayan forces on November 9-10, and refugees fleeing the conflict into Sudan have said they were targeted because they were Tigrayan.
Tigray forces accused the government of bombing a university in the Tigray capital of Mekelle on Thursday. There was no immediate response from the government although officials have said they are only attacking military targets.
It has been impossible to verify assertions on all sides because telephone lines and internet connections to Tigray have been down since the beginning of the conflict.
Ethiopia said on Thursday it was closing in on Mekelle as the rebels claimed they are fighting to defend it.
Also on Thursday, Ethiopia’s military accused the most prominent Tigrayan abroad, the World Health Organization (WHO) head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, of trying to procure arms and diplomatic backing for the TPLF.
Ethiopian army chief Birhanu Jula called Tedros, who served as a minister in a TPLF-led Ethiopian coalition government for more than a decade before taking the helm of the global health body, “a criminal”. Birhanu provided no evidence.
In a message on Twitter, Tedros denied the accusation and called on all parties in Ethiopia to work for peace, civilians’ safety and access for health and humanitarian aid to those in need.
“There have been reports suggesting I am taking sides in this situation. This is not true and I want to say that I am on only one side and that is the side of peace.” Tedros said.
Africa’s second-most populous nation of 115 million people, Ethiopia is a federation of 10 states run by separate ethnic groups, many of whom have used the new freedoms that came under Abiy to jostle with the federal government and each other for more power, money or land.
Of those, the mountainous Tigray – which accounts for about 5 percent of the population – is smaller but has a long history of dominating the security services. The region spearheaded a conflict that toppled a communist government in 1991.