Fighting in northern Ethiopia may intensify further after the nation’s Nobel-laureate leader urged citizens to join the army and militias, which may add to the misery caused by nine months of civil war between the federal government and dissidents in the Tigray region.
About 300,000 people are facing “emergency levels of hunger” in Ethiopia’s Amhara and Afar states, where Tigrayan forces began an offensive after regaining most of their territory from government troops in June, says the World Food Programme. An additional 5.2-million people in Tigray have been affected by the conflict and desperately need food aid.
“The agricultural planting season has been missed in many parts of Tigray and estimates show only 25%-50% of the normal cereal production will be available this year,” the UN agency said in a statement.
Conflict in Ethiopia erupted in November after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accused forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which dominated national politics for 27 years before being sidelined in 2018, of attacking a federal military base. The violence has scarred the nation’s reputation as one of Africa’s top investment destinations and sent its eurobonds plummeting.
There have been reports of intense fighting, including the use of heavy artillery, in four districts along the border between Amhara and Tigray since the start of August, internal UN documents seen by Bloomberg show.
A major offensive is under way in northern Amhara to “reverse the existential threat” from Tigray, Sema Tiruneh, head of the Amhara region’s peace and public security bureau, told state media at the weekend.
Meanwhile, more than 200 people, about half of them children, were reportedly killed in an attack on a health facility and school in Afaron on August 5, an incident the government and Tigrayan officials have blamed on each other.
Abiy, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for ending a long-running conflict with neighbouring Eritrea, on Tuesday called for a national response to repel the Tigrayans. “Now is the right time for all capable Ethiopians who are of age to join the defence forces, special forces and militias and show your patriotism,” his office said in a statement.
Violence has also flared in other parts of Ethiopia and its neighbours have been drawn into the fray. Inter-communal fighting between ethnic Afaris and ethnic Somalis in eastern Afar has spilt over the border into Djibouti in recent days, the UN documents show. Ethiopian and Sudanese forces have previously clashed over a contested strip of border land known as al-Fashaga in Amhara.
Calls by the US for Tigray to stop its advance after the federal government unilaterally declared a ceasefire in June have been rebuffed by the dissidents.
“Tigray is fighting to defend itself, to remove the rope from around its neck,” Debretsion Gebremichael, the region’s leader, said in an interview broadcast on YouTube on Sunday. “Tigray has been strangled and now it is trying to tear apart the rope.”
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