NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – The Ethiopian Prime Minister said on Friday his government had launched airstrikes against forces of the country’s well-equipped Tigray region, asserting that the attacks were in many sites “destroyed missiles and other heavy weapons completely” and made that impossible. for a retaliation attack.
Abiy Ahmed’s evening announcement marked another escalation in this week’s clashes that experts say could push one of Africa’s most populous and powerful nations into a civil war.
There was no mention of casualties in what Abiy called the “first round of action”; against the regional government, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. He said the air force destroyed heavy weapons in the capital Mekele of Tigray and surrounding areas, accusing the TPLF of “having a desire to use them”.
Operation will continue, Abiy said, “until the government is legally accountable.” And he warned the citizens of Tigray: “To avoid sudden danger, I recommend that you limit group movements to cities.”
There was no immediate response from the Tigray government, while the region was increasingly embargoed by travel restrictions and a six-month emergency imposed by the federal government.
Hours earlier, the prime minister had defended military operations launched early on Wednesday after Abiy accused the Tigray government of a deadly attack on a military base. He asserted that months of patiently trying to resolve differences with the regional government have failed because of the “leadership’s arrogance and lack of consistency”.
And with that, the prime minister seems to be shutting down dialogue, which some experts and diplomats say is essential.
He asserted that “large-scale law enforcement” had “clear, limited and achievable goals: the restoration of the rule of law and the constitutional order”.
The Prime Minister, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for sweeping political reforms, faces his greatest challenge as the TPLF, which dominated the Ethiopian government before he took office in 2018, was pushed back while feeling disadvantaged.
The region north of Tigray was increasingly cut off. The Ethiopian civil aviation agency said airports in Mekele and cities in the Shire, Axum and Humera regions had been closed. In Sudan, the acting governor of Kassla province said the country’s border with northern Ethiopia was closed “until further notice” due to the tension, the Sudanese news agency reported.
Experts say civil war would be dire and destabilizing for the Horn of Africa. It is not clear what conciliation efforts may be underway; The African Union, based in Ethiopia, has not made a statement.
Aid groups warn a humanitarian catastrophe is imminent if fighting continues, with the COVID-19 pandemic among crises.
Communication was almost completely cut off at Tigray. They disappeared around the same time that Abiy made the announcement earlier on Wednesday.
The attack on a military base was “the last straw,” Abiy said on Friday.
The Ethiopian army said it was deploying troops from all over the country to Tigray. Leader Tigray said “we are ready to become martyrs.” Casualties have been reported to both sides.
Verifying the event version of both sides is still challenging.
An Ethiopian source told The Associated Press, at least one fighter was flying overhead but there has been no confirmation that it dropped the bomb. The source said Thursday saw fierce fighting and shelling and the roads to Tigray had been closed.
The federal government said Friday that public meetings in Tigray and group travel of more than four people are not allowed and that no one outside law enforcement can carry weapons.
Federal police confirmed that their members guarding 22 locations across the Tigray have been attacked by TPLF forces in recent days.
The United Nations head of human rights, Michelle Bachelet, urged the Ethiopian federal government to reinstate internet and telephone services, saying that “the disconnection has seriously hindered the ability to monitor the situation in the real world. local people, especially the impact of clashes among local people. “
But some words started to appear. On Friday, the International Rescue Commission received the first message from colleagues at Tigray.
“There is no active hostility going on in the areas where we are working,” said George Readings, the group’s global crisis analyst. But “we know the situation is quite stressful.”
About 90,000 people in Tigray receive IRC services, and he worries how the conflict will affect “a lot of already very vulnerable people.”
Tigray received refugees from Eritrea – The readings can’t say whether the border is open – and the area has been hit hard by a grasshopper outbreak. “I should also mention that there have been floods,” he said. “It’s a really delicate situation.”
The IRC Tigray operations will have fuel available for next month. “Then there’s a real question,” if mobility is restricted and fighting continues, Readings said.
It is unclear what kind of support Tigray could have, if any.
Tigray is bordered by Eritrea, where there was a multi-year war with Ethiopia before the two countries made peace in 2018. The Tigray and Eritrea governments did not get along and the TPLF this week accused Eritrea of cooperating with each other. federal government of Ethiopia to target.
Eritrea remains one of the most closed countries in the world, but its ambassador to Japan tweeted overnight, “Promoting militarization, proxy war and restoring rules of military engagement in the region must terminate now ”.
Meseret reports from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Nona Elhennawy from Cairo is present.