Ethiopia’s parliament on Thursday validated a six-month state of emergency in the rebellious northern Tigray region, where the federal government has launched a military campaign despite international pleas for negotiation to avoid a civil war.
The state of emergency was announced Wednesday by cabinet ministers, hours after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered troops into Tigray in response to a deadly attack on a federal military base in the regional capital, Mekele. Abiy’s administration blames the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the regional government, for authorizing the attack.
The Tigray regional government said Thursday that Ethiopian military forces had bombarded locations near Mekele. A reporter for VOA’s Horn of Africa Service said he heard military aircraft passing over the city around 3 p.m. local time.
Ethiopia’s federal government has made no comment regarding the reported attack, and VOA has not confirmed any airstrikes in the region.
Earlier Thursday, Ethiopian General Birhanu Jula appeared on state television and said the missions undertaken by the military in Tigray would target forces of the “extreme” TPLF group, not civilians.
He accused the TPLF of provoking the conflict. He added the Ethiopian military was scoring victories that showed the end of the battle was near and that would prevent war from spreading to other parts of the country.
In a brief national address Wednesday, Abiy spoke of “several martyrs” from Monday’s attack on the federal military base in Mekele and vowed to put down “traitorous forces,” including in the well-armed TPLF.
Tigray repeatedly has defied the federal government. In September, it went ahead with elections despite the federal government’s decision to postpone them nationally to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
On Thursday, the president of Ethiopia’s Amhara region, Temesgen Tiruneh, said that regional and federal special forces had regained control along the border with Tigray. He also said some TPLF troops had surrendered.
Internet and phone service was not working Thursday in Tigray, making it difficult for reporters to determine what was happening there.
‘Protracted’ conflict feared
“This war is the worst possible outcome of the tensions that have been brewing,” William Davison, an analyst with International Crisis Group, told the AFP news agency.
“Given Tigray’s relatively strong security position, the conflict may well be protracted and disastrous,” Davison said, adding it could send “shock waves” into the wider Horn of Africa region.
On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appealed for calm.
“We are deeply concerned by reports that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front carried out attacks on Ethiopian National Defense Force bases in Ethiopia’s Tigray region,” Pompeo said in a statement posted to social media. “We urge immediate action to restore the peace and de-escalate tensions.”
The U.S. Embassy in capital, Addis Ababa, called via Twitter for “an immediate de-escalation … and a measured response by both sides.”
Abiy received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his efforts to build international cooperation and ease conflict with neighboring Eritrea. The Tigray region borders Eritrea.
VOA’s Horn of Africa Service contributed to this report, with reporting from Eskinder Firew in Addis Ababa and from Mulugeta Atsbeha in Mekele.