Ethiopia Says Tigray Metropolis Confiscated, Battle Embroiled Eritrea
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Amhara region militia members drive their trucks to the mission to face the Tigray People's Liberation Front in Sanja
By Giulia Paravicini
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – The government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Monday it had captured another city in the northern Tigray region after fighting for almost two weeks in a conflict that already erupted in Eritrea and the Horn destabilized by Africa.
Hundreds have died, at least 20,000 refugees have fled to Sudan, and atrocities have been reports since Abiy ordered air strikes and a ground offensive against Tigray's rulers for defying his authority.
The conflict could jeopardize a recent economic opening, fuel ethnic bloodshed in Africa's second largest nation and tarnish the reputation of Abiy, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for a peace pact with Eritrea last year.
The Tigray People & # 39; s Liberation Front (TPLF), which rules the region of more than 5 million people, has accused Eritrea of sending tanks and thousands of soldiers across the border to aid Ethiopian federal troops. Asmara denies that.
Tigray troops fired rockets at Eritrea over the weekend.
A task force appointed by Abiy to study the government's response to the crisis said the troops had "liberated" the city of Alamata from the TPLF. "They fled and took around 10,000 prisoners with them," he added, without specifying where they came from.
With communications mostly disrupted and media barred, Reuters was unable to independently verify each side's claims.
There was no immediate comment from Tigray's leaders on events in Alamata, near the border with Amhara state, some 120 km from Tigray's capital, Mekelle.
TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael called on the United Nations and the African Union to condemn Ethiopia's federal forces, accusing them of using high-tech weapons, including drones, in attacks. He said they smashed a dam and a sugar factory.
"Abiy Ahmed is waging this war against the people of Tigray and is responsible for deliberately inflicting human suffering on the people and destroying large infrastructure projects," he said.
"We are not the initiators of this conflict and it is evident that Abiy Ahmed waged this war to consolidate his personal power," he added, warning that Ethiopia could become a failed state or disintegrate.
The fighting has spread beyond Tigray to Amhara, whose local armed forces are allied with Abiy & # 39; s forces. Missiles were fired at two Amhara airports on Friday in retaliation for government air strikes, according to the TPLF.
Tigray leaders accuse Abiy, who comes from the largest Oromo ethnic group and Africa's youngest leader, of persecuting them and rescuing them from government and security forces over the past two years. He says they rose up against him by attacking a military base.
Amnesty International has condemned the murder of dozens and possibly hundreds of civilian workers in a massacre that both sides have alleged against each other.
The Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) has around 140,000 employees and a lot of experience in the fight against militant Islamists in Somalia and rebel groups in border regions, as well as a border dispute with Eritrea that has lasted two decades.
But many high-ranking officers were Tigrayans, many of their most powerful weapons are there, and the TPLF has occupied the headquarters of the powerful Northern Command in Mekelle.
There have been reports of attacks by Tigrayan ENDF members. And the TPLF itself has an impressive history leading the rebel march to Addis Ababa, which ousted a Marxist dictatorship in 1991 and carried the brunt of a 1998-2000 war with Eritrea in which hundreds of thousands were killed.
Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki – a longtime enemy of the Tigrayan leaders – controls a huge standing army occupied by the United States CIA with 200,000 employees.
Abiy once fought alongside the Tigrayans and was a government partner with them until he took office in 2018. He won early praise for seeking peace with Eritrea, began to liberalize the economy and open up a repressive political system.