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Abiy calls on ‘all capable Ethiopians’ to fight Tigrayan forces

Africa updates

Ethiopia’s government has called on “all capable Ethiopians” to join an assortment of national and regional armed forces to fight Tigrayan fighters amid concern that an unending conflict might turn into an all-out war.

“Our defence forces, regional special forces and militia are directed to halt the destruction of the treasonous and terrorist TPLF and the machinations of foreign hands once and for all,” the office of prime minister Abiy Ahmed stated on Tuesday, referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which previously led Ethiopia and is now fighting the federal government and two regions.

“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.”

Since July, the war has spread from Tigray into two other Ethiopian regions, Amhara and Afar, with the World Food Programme saying on Monday that 300,000 people there faced “emergency levels of hunger”, with an additional 400,000 people on the verge of famine-like conditions in northernmost Tigray. 

On Friday, the Ethiopian government wrote on Twitter that by “attacking” Afar and Amhara the “TPLF is increasingly making every endeavour to peace unattainable. The government of Ethiopia is being pushed to mobilise and deploy its entire defensive capability.”

TPLF leaders have said they are “not interested in grabbing power or territory that does not belong to us” but in repelling forces that are fighting alongside Ethiopian federal troops and retaking southern and western Tigray, which were occupied by Amhara troops.

As the leading member of the four-party coalition that ran Ethiopia for almost three decades until 2018, when Abiy took office as prime minister, the TPLF had played a decisive role in national politics, while also causing growing resentment in several parts of the country as well as in neighbouring Eritrea.

Last November, Abiy, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, said that TPLF loyalists had attacked federal troops stationed in Tigray. He sent troops to quell the unrest and arrest its leadership.

While the prime minister had promised swiftly to restore law and order, the war has become a protracted and gruesome conflict that has sparked a humanitarian crisis.

It has involved troops and militias from other Ethiopian regions and Eritrea, and took a stunning turn in late June when pro-TPLF fighters retook the regional capital Mekelle, the federal army withdrew and the government called a unilateral ceasefire.

“In the aftermath of the military defeat of the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces in the hands of the Tigray forces, the Ethiopian regime has chosen to continue the war against Tigray,” TPLF leaders stated on Sunday.

In recent weeks, Tigrayan fighters have seized control of Lalibela, a 12th-century holy site in Amhara, and also places in Afar as the nine-month conflict stepped up, fuelling regional and global concerns.

On Monday, Henrietta Fore, the head of Unicef, said that her agency was “extremely alarmed by the reported killing of over 200 people, including more than 100 children, in attacks on displaced families in Ethiopia’s Afar region”, without specifying who was responsible but calling “on all parties to end the fighting”. 

The US last week asked the TPLF to withdraw its associated fighters from Amhara and Afar, and for the Amhara regional government to also pull out its forces from western Tigray, calling “on all parties to the conflict to end the violence”, said Ned Price, a state department spokesperson, “to initiate talks to achieve a negotiated ceasefire”.

Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, recently weighed in and called for the “opening of political dialogue between the belligerents, with respect for the integrity and unity of Ethiopia”, amid fears that Africa’s second-most populous country could break up.

On Sunday, Sudan, which hosts more than 50,000 refugees from Tigray, reportedly recalled its ambassador to Ethiopia, saying that Addis Ababa had rejected Khartoum’s offer to mediate in the civil war.

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