Ethiopia’s Tigray region asserts that fighter jets have bombed locations around its capital, Mekele, aiming to force the region “into submission”, while Ethiopia’s army says it has been forced into an “unexpected and aimless war”.
The Tigray allegation was read out Thursday evening on the regional broadcaster. Ethiopia’s government has not commented on it.
Earlier, Ethiopia mobilised for war in the northern Tigray region, dashing international hopes of averting a conflict between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the powerful ethnic faction that led the ruling coalition for decades.
On Thursday, the deputy army chief said the “country has entered into unexpected war” after Ethiopia’s lower house of parliament approved unanimously a six-month state of emergency in the region which is ruled by the opposition Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
“Our country has entered into a war that it did not want. This war is a shameful war. It does not have a point. The people of Tigray and its youth and its security forces should not die for this pointless war. Ethiopia is their country,” the deputy chief of the army, Birhanu Jula, said on state television, adding that troops were being mustered from around the country and dispatched to Tigray.
“The war will not come to the centre, it will end there [in Tigray].”
Communications remained cut off in Tigray after services disappeared at just around the time Abiy’s office first announced the attack and military action on Wednesday.
The communication blackout has challenged efforts to verify the Ethiopian federal government’s account of events.
A humanitarian source said shelling and shooting had been heard in the region since the early hours of Thursday, and nearly two dozen soldiers had been treated at a clinic near the border with the Amhara region.
Another source told The Associated Press news agency that the Tigray capital, Mekele, appeared calm on Thursday morning but skirmishes took place elsewhere.
Tigray regional president, Debretsion Gebremichael, earlier said its forces had foiled a plan by the federal troops to use artillery and arms stationed there to attack the region.
“In the regions around Tigray, there is a massing of military forces. I stated that they have decided to go to war and we should all prepare to foil it. This is our proclamation, so let it be clear,” he said.
“There is no reason for this because the people of Tigray held an election. There was nothing new that happened. This is the action of a self-loving government that is trying to resolve, albeit though not possible, political differences through force, weapons, and war. That is why they have declared war on the people of Tigray.”
🎬 Why has Ethiopia’s prime minister @AbiyAhmedAI started a military intervention in Tigray? Going forward, what does this mean for the country, and the broader region?@wdavison10 explains ⇓ pic.twitter.com/k3l7Aih6Y8
— Crisis Group (@CrisisGroup) November 5, 2020
Federal troops and regional forces clashed in Tigray on Wednesday after Abiy ordered a response to an alleged attack by TPLF on government forces in the region.
The TPLF was the dominant political force in Ethiopia’s multiethnic ruling coalition for decades, but quit after Abiy, a member of the Oromo ethnic group, took office two years ago and reorganised the coalition into a single party.
Countries in the region fear that the crisis could escalate into an all-out war under Abiy, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for ending a decades-old conflict with neighbouring Eritrea but has had to contend with outbreaks of ethnic unrest.
Tensions with the TPLF have been escalating since September when Tigray held regional elections in defiance of the federal government, which called the vote “illegal”.
Sources said efforts were under way behind the scenes to encourage talks, pushed by the African Union. But the initiative was being resisted by authorities in Addis Ababa who insist they have to eliminate a threat posed by the TPLF.
Redwan Hussein, a spokesman for a newly established State of Emergency Task Force, told Reuters news agency on Wednesday that the option for talks was “not yet” on the table.
Hussein also told reporters the federal government’s conflict is with a “small clique of TPLF circles that are keen to destabilise Ethiopia” and the government must do everything possible to “liberate the Tigrayan people”.
One diplomat told Reuters that dozens of federal troops were killed during the first day of fighting. There was no word on casualties suffered by the TPLF.