Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced on Wednesday a military operation against the Tigray region (north), which he accuses of launching a deadly attack on a federal military base.
Tensions have escalated in recent weeks between a section of the federal government in Addis Ababa headed by Abiy Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and the Tigrayan government led by a political elite that previously ruled the country.
Military developments in recent hours have raised fears of observers of the outbreak of a long and destructive conflict threatening the fragile stability of the second largest country in the continent in terms of population (more than a hundred million people).
On Wednesday, Ahmed accused the ruling Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of attacking an army camp in Tigray.
“Our defense forces received the order (…) to carry out their mission to save the nation. The last stage of the red line has been crossed,” he added.
And Abi Ahmed confirmed after his first statements, on state television, that “the non-loyal forces” had turned against the army in Mekele, the capital of Tigray, and Dansha, a town located in the west of the region.
On Wednesday, the federal government declared a state of emergency for a period of six months in the Tigray region, without elaborating on the details of this exceptional measure.
“I confirm that we succeeded in thwarting the enemy’s plans and hopes on all fronts,” the Prime Minister said on Wednesday evening in a televised speech, stressing that members of the security forces in the region “tried to distance themselves from this unjust war, and some of them even tried to split.”
In his televised address, the Ethiopian Prime Minister said that the security forces repelled the attack on Dinsha in the Amhara region bordering southern Tigray, explaining that the attack had caused “many dead and wounded and material damage.”
In a statement, the Prime Minister’s office accused the TPLF of dressing its members in military uniforms such as those worn by Eritrean army soldiers in order to “implicate the Eritrean government in false allegations of aggression against the Tigrayans”.
In a statement published by local media, the Tigray Regional Government said that the leadership and soldiers of the Northern Military Region, based in Mikkeli, “decided to stand with the Tigrayans and the regional government.”
Tensions have escalated in recent days between Addis Ababa and Tigray.
The region’s leaders, who dominated national politics for thirty years before Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018, refused to extend the federal parliament’s mandate for MPs – national and local – and decided to hold elections in their region in September.
Since then, each camp has considered the other to be illegal. Early last month, Ethiopian senators voted to cut contacts and funding between federal authorities and Tigray officials.
As part of this tension, surveillance operations were imposed on the military personnel and equipment in Tigray.
On Friday, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front prevented a general appointed by Addis Ababa from taking up his post there, and he was forced to return to his position after he was informed that “his appointment is not considered legitimate.”
The US embassy in Addis Ababa called for “an immediate de-defusing of the crisis in Tigray and a moderate response from both sides.”
He played with fire
Tigray includes a large part of the federal state’s military personnel and equipment, which is the legacy of the war that took place from 1998 to 2000 between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which borders the region.
On Friday, a report by the International Crisis Group revealed that the region includes “more than half of all armed forces and qualified teams” in the country.
The organization warned of the possibility of a “devastating conflict that may tear apart the Ethiopian state.”
Tigray officials recently said they would not initiate a military conflict. “We will not be the first to shoot, nor the first to fail,” Getachew Raza, a senior official of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, told AFP last week.
Hours before the prime minister’s announcement, Wondemo Osamnio, another senior official in Tigray, told AFP on Tuesday evening that the federal government was massing forces on the southern border of Tigray, in information that could not be independently verified.
“I think that when it comes to military mobilization, this is not children’s play. This could trigger an all-out war,” Wondemo added, stressing that “what they do is play with fire.”
“Anything can happen at any time. A small spark can ignite the entire region, so I think we are on high alert and I can assure that we are able to defend ourselves.”