ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) – The Ethiopian prime minister on Wednesday ordered the military to confront one of the country’s regional governments after he said it had carried out a deadly attack on a military base in the night, under the pretext of “provocation and incite” for months and declared that “The red line has finally passed.”
The statement by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office and the well-armed Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s reported attack immediately aroused fears that one of Africa’s most populous and mighty nations could fall back to war. That will send a shock wave through the Horn of Africa and beyond.
Speaking to the nation on TV, Abiy announced “a number of martyrs”; during the attack in Mekele, the capital of the northern Tigray region and the town of Dansha. The prime minister said “the end is imminent” for regional forces, based in Ethiopia’s most sensitive area, neighboring Eritrea. The two countries made peace in 2018 after a protracted border war.
The TPLF was a dominant part of the ruling Ethiopian coalition before Abiy took office in 2018 and announced extensive political reforms that helped him win the Nobel Peace Prize. last year. However, these reforms opened up space for grievances between the old and other peoples. The TPLF, feeling marginalized, left the alliance last year. Observers say it remains a powerful military force.
There was no immediate notification from the TPLF, and all internet and telephone lines were cut off in the Tigray area following the announcement. Tigray TV reports that the airspace has been closed in the area.
Ethiopia was already strained by a dispute with Egypt over Ethiopia’s large dam project that drew the rare attention of President Donald Trump to Africa, and by a multilayered crisis with pandemic COVID-19, deadly ethnic violence and a grasshopper outbreak.
Now, Abiy’s biggest rule test has arrived.
Tigray officials have opposed the postponement of the Ethiopian national election, which was set in August, because of the coronavirus pandemic and Abiy’s extension of his time in office.
On Sunday, a senior TPLF official, Getachew Reda, told The Associated Press that his side would not accept negotiations with the federal government.
“What we need now is national dialogue, not negotiation,” he said. The TPLF said the release of detained former officials is a prerequisite for opening talks.
In September, people in Tigray voted in a local election, challenge the federal government and increase political tensions. Last month, the federal government moved to send regional funding to the local government instead of the regional government, angering TPLF officials.
“This war is the worst possible outcome due to rising tensions,” said William Davison, senior analyst at International Crisis Group in Ethiopia, said on Wednesday. “Given Tigray’s relatively secure security position, the conflict can be long and catastrophic.”
Abiy’s statement confirmed that the TPLF attacked a military base at Tigray early on Wednesday and attempted to retrieve artillery and other equipment. The statement accused the TPLF of illegally armed and organized militia.
After months of “extreme patience” by the federal government, “however, a war cannot be stopped based solely on the goodwill and decision of one party,” the prime minister’s statement said. “The red line was finally crossed with this morning’s attacks and the federal government is therefore forced into a military confrontation” to save the country.
Observers have been worried for months about growing tensions and their effects on the volatile Horn of Africa region, where Abiy identified himself as a pacifist shortly after taking office.
An Ethiopian split “would be the biggest state collapse in modern history, potentially leading to racial and interreligious conflict,” said a report by the American Institute of Peace. Humanitarian and security crises at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East on the scale will eclipse existing conflicts in South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. “
The international community needs to rally around the idea of national dialogue in Ethiopia, the International Crisis Group warned a week ago.
“The alternative, with the country’s severe and divided divisions, is a potentially war-led operation that will be catastrophic for Africa’s second most populous nation and will send waves riot, and refugees to other Horn of Africa countries as well as on the Mediterranean, ”the group wrote.
Cara Anna in Nairobi, Kenya, made a contribution.