Ethiopia aims to seize airports and other key infrastructure in the north of the country currently under the control of Tigray regional forces, the government said even as it stated it wanted a negotiated solution.
The Ethiopian government and its allies, who include neighbouring Eritrea’s army, have been fighting Tigray forces on and off since late 2020. The conflict has killed thousands of civilians, uprooted millions and left hundreds of thousands now facing possible famine.
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“It is … imperative that the government of Ethiopia assumes immediate control of all airports, other federal facilities, and installations in the region,” the government communication service said in a statement on Monday.
While pursuing these objectives, it said, the government was committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict through African Union-led peace talks.
Addis Ababa did not address African Union appeals for a ceasefire, pledging instead to carry out “defensive measures”.
“These measures are necessitated not only by the repeated attacks of the TPLF [Tigray People’s Liberation Front] but also by its active collusion with these hostile foreign powers,” the statement said.
A spokesman for the Tigray forces, Getachew Reda, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Tigray authorities said on Sunday their forces would abide by an immediate truce and said a “humanitarian catastrophe” was unfolding.
The conflict stems from grievances rooted in periods of Ethiopia’s turbulent past when particular regional power blocs held sway over the country as a whole, and in tensions over the balance of power between the regions and the central state.
The latest flare-up began in August after months of ceasefire, with each side blaming the other.
Peace talks proposed for earlier this month in South Africa were delayed with no new date announced. Diplomats involved in trying to get the talks going have said privately that momentum was lacking despite both sides saying they wanted talks.
“We seem to be trending towards a launch of talks. We’re impatient. People are dying. This needs to get going,” a senior Western official told the Reuters news agency.
Both sides deny each other’s accusations of launching attacks that have harmed civilians.
Diplomatic and humanitarian sources have reported daily shelling of populated areas in Tigray. The African Union called on Sunday for an immediate ceasefire and for humanitarian aid to resume.
UN chief Antonio Guterres, the United States and other Western powers have voiced alarm over the worsening violence and called for a peaceful settlement to “this catastrophic conflict”.
There are concerns particularly for Shire, a city of 100,000 people in northwest Tigray, where Ethiopian and Eritrean troops have launched a joint offensive and civilian casualties have been reported.
On Friday, an aid worker from the International Rescue Committee was among three civilians killed in an attack in Shire, where witnesses have reported heavy shelling in recent days.
US officials, including Samantha Power, the head of the development agency USAID, and Mike Hammer, Washington’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, have also called for the violence to stop and have condemned the Eritrean military’s involvement.
“Eritrea’s re-entry into Ethiopia has made matters significantly worse, it needs to withdraw and respect Ethiopia’s sovereignty – as should others who are fuelling the conflict,” Hammer said.