Hundreds of people have already died in an increasingly escalating conflict in the Ethiopian region of Tigray, sources within the military and security services say. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia is trying to reassure the rest of the world: the country is not on the brink of civil war, they say.
Since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018, hundreds of people have been killed in ethnic conflicts in Tigray, the northern area bordering Eritrea and Sudan. Abiy Ahmed, 44, is the youngest leader on the African continent and belongs to the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.
Last year he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his democratic reforms and for making peace with Eritrea. Last week, however, the prime minister launched a campaign against forces loyal to Tigray’s leaders, who he says are responsible for the attack on a military base in the city of Dansha.
“Concerns that Ethiopia will descend into chaos are unfounded & a result of not understanding our context deeply,” Abiy Ahmed tweeted today. “Our rule of law operation is aimed at guaranteeing peace and stability.”
According to the prime minister, planes have bombed weapon depots and other targets. Emergency workers and sources within the security services report heavy fights on the ground.
A source within the army told Reuters that fighting with Tigray’s rebels has already killed more than 500 on the rebels’ side. According to three sources within the security services in the Ethiopian region of Amhara, hundreds of the federal army soldiers were also killed in a battle in Dansha.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has ruled the region, has already been hardened by the war with Eritrea from 1998 to 2000 and by the guerrilla war that ended the dictator’s rule of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991. The region has an estimated 250,000 armed forces and militiamen and, according to experts, has an extensive arsenal of weapons.
The people of Tigray make up only five percent of Ethiopia’s population, but until Abiy Ahmed came to power, they dominated politics since rebels from their ethnic group put an end to the then Marxist military rule in 1991. They feel that Abiy’s government is wrongly targeting them in its crackdown on abuse of power and corruption.
According to the Ethiopian army, attacks on Tigray are intensifying, and many rebels have already surrendered. The military denies that the TPLF shot down a plane.
The TPLF has meanwhile requested mediation by the African Union. The United Nations wants Abiy Ahmed, a former soldier who fought against Eritrea alongside Tigray, to enter into dialogue.
There are also fears of reprisals against people from Tigray elsewhere in the country. In the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, 162 individuals, including a journalist, have already been arrested on suspicion of supporting Tigray’s rebels.
A civil war would be very damaging to the country’s economy, which has been growing steadily for years. In addition, more people could be displaced. In the past two years, thousands of people have already fled their home region in the country of 110 million inhabitants.