Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has issued a call for all eligible civilians to join the armed forces as fighting raged in multiple regions of Africa’s second-most populous nation.
The call on Tuesday by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader represented the further crumbling of the unilateral ceasefire his government declared in June as its military retreated from Tigray or the abandonment of the ceasefire altogether.
“Now is the right time for all capable Ethiopians who are of age to join the Defence Forces, Special Forces and militias and show your patriotism,” Abiy’s office said in a statement.
Abiy sent troops into Ethiopia’s northernmost Tigray region last November to topple the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the regional party that dominated national politics for nearly three decades until 2018.
The move came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps, said Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
Although Abiy promised a swift victory, the war took a stunning turn in June when Tigrayan forces recaptured the regional capital, Mekelle, and the Ethiopian army largely withdrew.
Abiy also declared a unilateral ceasefire, saying it would facilitate aid access to a region where 400,000 people are facing famine-like conditions, according to the United Nations.
Since then, the TPLF has pushed east into neighbouring Afar and south into the Amhara region.
Last week, its forces seized the Amhara town of Lalibela, home to 12th-century rock-hewn churches that are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On Tuesday, the government’s patience appeared to have run out, with its statement ordering security forces “to halt the destruction of the treasonous and terrorist TPLF organisation and the machinations of foreign hands once and for all”.
Earlier on Tuesday, a medical official in Afar told the AFP news agency that 12 people were killed and dozens wounded in a recent attack on displaced civilians.
The incident occurred on August 5 in Galicoma town, said Dr Abubeker Mahammud, medical director of the Dubti Referral Hospital, where victims were being treated.
“Twelve dead bodies arrived at the hospital,” Abubeker said.
“The total number of injured victims is more than 46, almost around 50. Almost 75 percent of them had bullet injuries.”
Survivors told hospital officials they were shot by fighters from the TPLF, Abubeker said.
Two officials with Afar’s regional government put the death toll in Galicoma at more than 200, but that figure could not be independently verified.
Ayish Yasin, head of Afar’s bureau for women and children, told AFP on Tuesday that “200 bodies of civilians have been recovered so far, while more than 48 are still missing.”
Ayish, who visited Galicoma on Monday, said many of the victims were killed by artillery fire and buried immediately.
“Out of the 200 bodies recovered, 107 are children – 48 girls and 59 boys,” she said.
“The victims are civilians who had no role in the conflict.”
The head of the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, said Monday she was “extremely alarmed by the reported killing of over 200 people, including more than 100 children, in attacks on displaced families” in Afar.
UNICEF officials in New York and Addis Ababa said they could not provide more information than what was in Fore’s statement.
Ethiopian officials have seized on the deaths in Galicoma as proof of the TPLF’s disregard for the worsening humanitarian situation in Tigray.
But TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said on Twitter late on Monday that government troops “launched an offensive on August 5 against our forces in Galicoma”.
He said the TPLF would “work with relevant bodies to investigate any incident that may have occurred”.
Aid agencies have struggled to get urgently needed humanitarian supplies to cut-off populations in Tigray as the violence has worsened.
On Tuesday, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR said it had regained access to two Eritrean refugee camps in Tigray for the first time since July 13, warning of the dire conditions facing the 23,000 people living there.
Although aid deliveries resumed on August 5, UNHCR spokesman Boris Cheshirkov told reporters in Geneva that access to the Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps continues to be “limited by a complex and fluid security situation”.
“Basic services such as healthcare remain unavailable, and clean drinking water is running out,” he added, reiterating a call to ease the passage of humanitarian convoys.
The TPLF has repeatedly said that it does not have designs on holding territory in Amhara and Afar and is instead focused on facilitating aid access and preventing pro-government forces from regrouping.