Category Archives: East Africa – Ethiopia 🇪🇹

Tigray Conflict: Ethiopian PM, Abiy meet with AU envoys

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It was unclear Friday whether the attack on Mekele had begun, or how close federal forces were to the city

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Friday met with African Union envoys to discuss the conflict in Tigray, where the army is poised for what he has called the final offensive against regional forces.

Abiy, the winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, on Thursday announced a “third and final phase” in his campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), whose forces have been battling federal troops in the defiant northern region for three weeks.

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The violence has killed many hundreds and displaced tens of thousands more, but there are grave fears for half a million civilians in Mekele, the regional capital, which the army says it has encircled ahead of a threatened attack.

The international community has warned such a strike could violate rules of war and has called for urgent mediation.

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Addis Ababa has refused to negotiate with the TPLF and Abiy has rebuffed calls for dialogue as “interference” in Ethiopia’s internal affairs.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 17, 2018 Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed delivers a speech during the 11th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. – Ethiopia’s army chief of staff has been shot, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced on television on June 23, 2019 as the government said it had thwarted an attempted coup in a regional state of this Horn of Africa nation. (Photo by Monirul BHUIYAN / AFP)

But the prime minister received at his office in Addis Ababa on Friday three African ex-leaders — Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa — dispatched this week by the AU as mediators.

In a statement issued after their meeting, Abiy said he appreciated “this gesture and… the steadfast commitment this demonstrates to the principle of African solutions to African problems.”

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Even so, the government has a “constitutionally mandated responsibility to enforce rule of law in the region and across the country,” he said.

Many attempts, he added, had been made to negotiate with the TPLF before military action was ordered on November 4.

The conflict has erupted in a year when the 55-member AU — which is headquartered in Addis Ababa — resolved to play a more prominent role in resolving conflicts across the continent under the slogan “Silencing the Guns”.

The AU called for an immediate halt to hostilities on November 10 but the conflict only spiralled further, with warplanes bombing the mountainous region and both sides claiming the upper hand.

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Humanitarian crisis
Tigray has been under a communications blackout since fighting began, making it difficult to weigh competing claims about casualties, and who holds what territory.

The state-affiliated Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation said late Thursday the army — which in recent days said it was advancing on Mekele with tanks — had identified key TPLF hideouts across the city, including an auditorium and a museum.

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Abiy, who ordered the strike on TPLF forces in Mekele after the lapsing of a deadline for their surrender, said “great care” would be taken to protect innocents and spare the city from severe damage.

The prospect of a full-scale attack accelerated diplomatic efforts this week to resolve the conflict, with the UN Security Council holding its first meeting on Tigray and US and European officials urging restraint.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who met his Ethiopian counterpart Demeke Mekonnen in Paris on Thursday, called for urgent measures to protect civilians as the humanitarian fallout from the crisis worsens across the region.

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The UNHCR said Friday that nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray could run out of food as early as Monday if supplies cannot reach them.

In eastern Sudan, meanwhile, where more than 40,000 refugees have escaped the fighting in Tigray, local authorities are struggling to meet the sudden surge in demand for food, shelter and other life-saving essentials.

The UNHCR said Friday that a plane carrying 32 tonnes of emergency aid had arrived in Sudan, and another airlift with 100 tonnes was expected Monday.

Refugees crossing the border said those still trying to reach Sudan were cutting across fields to avoid detection by Ethiopian troops, who they said were blocking the main exit route from Tigray.

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Abiy ordered the military into Tigray after alleged attacks by TPLF forces on federal army camps in the region.

The TPLF dominated Ethiopian politics and controlled its security for the better part of three decades until Abiy rose to power in 2018, beginning a power struggle between the former rulers and the new leader.

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#Newsworthy

Ethiopia accuses WHO Chief of backing dissident region

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A senior Tigrayan official, Wondimu Asamnew, said in an email that Tigrayan forces “have adopted a defensive posture on all fronts”.

Ethiopia’s army chief on Thursday accused WHO boss Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus — the country’s highest-profile Tigrayan abroad — of lobbying for and seeking to arm leaders in the conflict-torn dissident region.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed unleashed a military campaign against the northern region on November 4 with the declared aim of unseating its ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which he accuses of defying his government and seeking to destabilise it.

Army chief Berhanu Jula told a press conference that Tedros, who served as minister of health under TPLF leader Meles Zenawi, was “a part of that team”, referring to the party.

“He has worked in neighbouring countries to condemn the war. He has worked for them to get weapons,” said Berhanu.

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He said Tedros had “left no stone unturned” to help the TPLF, the party Abiy says he is targeting in a military offensive in the region.

“What do you expect from him? We don’t expect he will side with the Ethiopian people and condemn them,” he said.

Tedros has yet to respond to the accusation.

The 55-year-old was appointed as the first African head of the WHO in 2017 and has become a household name as he grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic. He has been ranked as one of Time magazine’s most influential people.

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Abiy’s government insists its target is the “reactionary and rogue” members of the TPLF and not average civilians in Tigray.

But observers have voiced concern about Tigrayans losing their jobs or being arrested for their ethnicity.

‘Outside forces’
The TPLF led the overthrow of Mengistu Hailemariam, head of Ethiopia’s military Derg regime, in 1991 and dominated politics for three decades until the arrival of Abiy who was appointed in 2018.

The party has complained about being sidelined under Abiy, and scapegoated for the country’s woes, and a bitter feud with the central government this year led them to hold their own elections in defiance of a postponement due to the coronavirus.

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On November 4, Abiy said the TPLF had attacked two federal military camps in the region, crossing a “red line”.

His controversial campaign has seen warplanes bombing Tigray and heavy fighting, while Amnesty International has documented a gruesome massacre.

A communications blackout in Tigray has made claims difficult to verify, but the overall toll is believed to be in the hundreds.

Meanwhile, the UN says a “full-scale humanitarian crisis” is unfolding, with 36,000 people having streamed into neighbouring Sudan, according to that country’s refugee commission.

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The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Wednesday that the Ethiopia Red Cross Society had “transported hundreds of people injured in areas affected by clashes.”

Abiy this week insisted the military operation was in its final phase, and his government has said it is marching towards the regional capital Mekele after a string of victories.

A statement from Tigray president Debretsion Gebremichael said Thursday that the army had “called upon assistance from an outside force, with drones starting to be used in the battle.”

‘Alienating Tigrayans’
Since the start of the fighting, hundreds of people have been arrested for allegedly conspiring with the TPLF, while 34 businesses had their bank accounts suspended for alleged links to the TPLF.

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The federal police late Wednesday announced arrest warrants for 76 army officers, some retired, accused of conspiring with the TPLF and “committing treason”.

The government has also said it has “credible and specific evidence” of TPLF operatives working for local and international organisations.

“We continue to receive credible reports of job suspensions of Tigrayan residents elsewhere in the country as fighting escalates in Tigray,” Laetitia Bader of Human Rights Watch told AFP last week.

“Given the incredibly tense and volatile context in the country, Ethiopian authorities should push back against language and measures that fuel intolerance and risk alienating Tigrayans from all walks of life.”


#Newsworthy…

Tigray crisis: Uganda’s Museveni urges dialogue with Ethiopia’s Abiy

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Hundreds have died and thousands have fled the country amid airstrikes and heavy fighting that observers fear could lead to a protracted civil war.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Monday met with Ethiopia’s foreign minister to discuss the growing conflict in that country, urging negotiations between warring parties.

Museveni met with Demeke Mekonnen, Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, to discuss the almost two-week-old conflict in the dissident northern region of Tigray.

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced November 4 he had ordered military operations in Tigray in a dramatic escalation of a long-running feud with the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

“A war in Ethiopia would give the entire continent a bad image,” Museveni wrote on Twitter after the meeting in the northern town of Gulu.

“There should be negotiations and the conflict stopped, lest it leads to unnecessary loss of lives and cripples the economy.”


#Newsworthy…

Tigray conflict: Ex President of Nigeria moves to Ethiopia

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Abiy has previously said any talks can’t begin until the TPLF is fully disarmed, resisting calls from world leaders for an immediate end to hostilities.

Nigeria’s ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo on Monday jetted to Ethiopia to mediate in the conflict between the government and the northern Tigray region, his spokesman said.

“He is on his way to Addis Ababa for talks,” Kehinde Akinyemi told AFP on the visit of the former Nigerian leader to the Ethiopian capital.

“He is going there for mediation,” Akinyemi said, without giving further details.

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Both the Ethiopian government and the African Union said they had no information on any visit by Obasanjo, who has previously acted as a United Nations peace envoy in DR Congo.

Ethiopia’s central government announced a military operation in the northern Tigray region on November 4 in a dramatic escalation of a long-running feud with the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The fighting — which has sent thousands fleeing over the border into Sudan — has sparked fears of civil war and concerns it could spread across the region after rockets were fired at an airport in neighbouring Eritrea.

The attack on Saturday was claimed by TPLF which has accused Eritrea of backing the government.

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office on Monday dismissed claims from Ugandan officials that President Yoweri Museveni would meet with representatives of both sides in an effort to facilitate talks.

Ugandan officials told AFP over the weekend those meetings would begin Monday in Uganda and would involve Demeke Mekonnen, Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister.

“The claims by various news outlets that Ethiopian officials are expected to take part in mediation talks with TPLF in Uganda are inaccurate and not substantiated,” a government statement said.


#Newsworthy…

Just in: Ethiopian forces seize Airport after fight escalates in Tigray region.

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Tigrayans say Abiy’s government has unfairly targeted them as part of a crackdown on past rights abuses and corruption.

The Ethiopian military has seized the airport near the town of Humera amid a nearly week-old conflict in the northern Tigray region.

The state media announcement on Tuesday about the capture of the airport, 67km (42 miles) south of Humera, came as fighting continued with reports of Ethiopian government forces capturing territory.

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“The Ethiopian National Defense Force has fully captured Humera Airport amid [a] continuation of [the] government’s military response against TPLF rebel group,” Fana TV reported, referring to the organisation that leads the government in the Tigray region.

Humera is located in the far northwest of the country near Ethiopia’s borders with Sudan and Eritrea.

A telephone and internet communications blackout in Tigray has made it difficult to verify the situation on the ground.

The African Union on Tuesday called for an immediate ceasefire.

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“The chairperson [Moussa Faki Mahamat] appeals for the immediate cessation of hostilities and calls on parties to respect human rights and ensure the protection of civilians,” the AU bloc said in a statement, also urging talks.

The leader of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, meanwhile, accused Eritrea of sending soldiers over the border to attack local forces.

In a statement on local TV, Debretsion Gebremichael gave no evidence for what would be a major escalation.

“Since yesterday, the army of [Eritrean leader] Isaias [Afwerki] have crossed the country’s boundary and invaded,” he said. “They were attacking via Humera using heavy arms.”

Eritrea’s government the accusation. “This is an internal conflict, we are not part of the conflict,” Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed said.

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‘No rebuffing of anyone’
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office said he is not ignoring international calls for calm over the escalating conflict that many fear is sliding towards civil war.

The violence in the northern area bordering Eritrea and Sudan threatens to destabilise Africa’s second-most populous country. Ethnic conflict in the region has simmered since Abiy took over in 2018.

“There is no rebuffing of anyone by the prime minister. He had acknowledged and given gratitude for the concerns shown,” Abiy’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum said in response to a request for comment on a diplomat’s assertion that Abiy was “not listening to anyone”.

“Nevertheless, Ethiopia is a sovereign nation and its government will ultimately make decisions in the long-term interest of the country and its people.”

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The United Nations also has pressed Abiy – a former soldier who once fought alongside Tigrayans against Eritrea – to start a dialogue.

Abiy, the continent’s youngest leader at 44, won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for democratic reforms and for making peace with Eritrea.

But last week, the prime minister, who is from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group the Oromo, launched a campaign against forces loyal to ethnic Tigrayan leaders in the northern region. He accused them of attacking a military base.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the latest conflict, sources on the government’s side said on Monday. But Abiy said fears of chaos were unfounded.

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Leaders of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region said on Monday the federal government led by Abiy had launched more than 10 air raids against them in recent days.

Meanwhile, the newly appointed Ethiopian army chief, Berhanu Jula, said federal forces had captured four towns in western Tigray where much of the fighting has reportedly been concentrated.

Ethiopian TV broadcast images of what it said were Ethiopian government forces entering the border town of Dansha in Tigray. Footage showed residents celebrating and cheering the arrival of government soldiers.

The public broadcaster also showed images of what it alleged were Tigrayan militia who surrendered. Ethiopia’s air force is “pounding targets with precision”, a military official said Monday.

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Neighbouring Sudan has reportedly sent more than 6,000 troops to the border.

Up to 250,000 fighters
Tigrayans account for just 6 percent of Ethiopians but had, before Abiy’s rule, dominated politics for nearly 30 years.

They are battle-hardened from the 1999-2000 war with neighbouring Eritrea and from the struggle to topple Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991. They and allies number up to 250,000 fighters and possess significant stocks of military hardware, according to the International Crisis Group think-tank.

All-out war would damage Ethiopia’s economy after years of steady growth. Abiy has pledged sweeping reforms to open lucrative sectors such as telecommunications to foreign investment.


#Newsworthy…

Storyline: Ethiopia does not want to harm Sudan, Egypt – PM says.

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Ethiopia Prime minister Abiy Ahmed stated the country has “no intention to harm” neighouring Egypt and Sudan.

Comments that come after months of negociations over the Renaissance Dam, situated upstream of the two countries, have failed to produce any agreement.

Egypt has warned the Dam project could have devastating effects on its economy. As the Nile river’s flow would be diminished to fill up the dam’s reservoir, Egypt would lose on its main source of scarce fresh water ressources.

A situation Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said he is willing to avoid.

“I want to assure that we are firm in our commitment to addressing the concerns of downstream countries and reaching a mutually beneficial outcome in the context of the ongoing African Union-led process”, Ethiopia ‘s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, stated in an recorded speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

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Regional tensions and a local crisis
Abiy Ahmed, whose country is engaged in complicated talks in the region, also faces a major challenge in his country.

Deadly unrest shook Ethiopia as long-marginalized groups, who seek more say in the country’s politics have taken their anger to the streets for the past few months.

The long awaited first free elections, two years after Abiy Ahmed was sworn in as Ethiopia’s Prime Minister have been postponed to 2021.

Opposition members, such as Oromo Federalist Congress leaderJawar Mohammed, have stated the government was using COVID 19 pandemic fears as a tool to stay in power.


#Newsworthy