Eritrea is accused by the rebellious Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of fighting with the Ethiopian army, which the Ethiopian government has denied. Eritrea and Ethiopia were arch enemies for the 27 years that the Tigrayers held power. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who took office in 2018, ended the enmity, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
On Saturday evening, Abiy Ahmed reported on Twitter that his armed forces have taken the Tigray capital of Mekelle. He said the military operation has now ended and “humanitarian aid and the rebuilding of the region will receive attention.” Federal police will be engaged in arresting and trying the “ Tigray People’s Liberation Front clique, ” Abiy added.
The army also reported through General Berhanu Jula through the Ethiopian broadcaster EBC that the city is under complete control. The city was shot at with heavy artillery, according to the TPLF, TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters earlier in the day at the start of the offensive. The Ethiopian government had warned the city’s half-million residents this week to distance themselves from the TPLF, or ‘no mercy’ will be shown.
Reporting on the events in Mekelle from both sides cannot be verified because the province has been closed to media and other observers since November 4. The internet and telephone traffic has also come to a standstill since the conflict has flared up in the region. Testimonies of the approximately 43,000 civilians who have fled to neighboring Sudan indicate that violent acts have been committed on a large scale. Hundreds to thousands of innocent civilians would have been killed.
According to Million Samuel Gebre, the Ethiopian ambassador to the Netherlands, there is no question of the Ethiopian government being guilty of crimes against its own citizens. “I can guarantee you that our government would not damage our beautiful cities,” he said at a press conference at the Ethiopian embassy in The Hague on Friday. “If, after this operation, it turns out that war crimes have been committed, we will investigate and prosecute the perpetrators,” he added.
According to Million, the TPLF has mobilized supporters and armed them with “criminal” money to turn against the federal government. After the movement started organizing regional elections for more autonomy on its own, according to the ambassador, ‘a red line’ was crossed when a federal army post was attacked earlier this month. The TLPF denies this attack, saying the government has used it as an excuse to launch the attack in the rebellious Tigray province.
The Tigrayers make up only 6 percent of multi-ethnic Ethiopia but were in power for 27 years until the current Prime Minister Abiy came to power in 2018. He belongs to the largest ethnic group, the Oromo. Abiy, who was awarded the Nobel Prize last year for the peace he made with neighboring Eritrea, inherited a country where ethnic divisions and tensions had long been brutally suppressed. After taking office, he released political prisoners and promised more freedom for political and ethnic groups to organize.
That freedom has now actually turned against the prime minister, Ambassador Million agrees. There is an international fear that the government of Abiy will revert to old repressive means of power that the prime minister had intended to deal with. Attempts to mediate from neighboring countries and also the African Union, which is based in the Ethiopian capital Addis Abeba, have been rejected by the Ethiopian government. The conflict in Tigray sees the government as an ‘internal affair’.
The war in the Ethiopian province of Tigray shows the tension between the desire for a united state and the reality of a multi-ethnic federation. How did the current conflict arise?