Fighting between Ethiopian government forces and rebel northern leaders may go unchecked and war crimes may have occurred, the United Nations said Friday, with developments spreading around Africa’s volatile horn.
The 10-day conflict in the Tigre region has killed hundreds, displaced refugees into Sudan and raised fears that it could attract in Eritrea or force Ethiopia to divert troops from an African force opposing al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Somalia.
It will also damage the reputation of Prime Minister Abi Ahmed, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for the 2018 peace deal with Eritrea and has been praised for opening up Ethiopia’s economy and easing its repressive political system.
“This situation is a risk that is completely out of control, leading to massive loss of life and destruction, as well as mass displacement within Ethiopia and across borders,” UN Chief of Staff Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.
జ Ac acota of citizens Amnesty International reports that if a party is found guilty of conflict, it could lead to war crimes.
The U.S. State Department’s top diplomat for Africa on Friday condemned the killing of civilians in the conflict.
“We condemn the massacre of civilians in Mai-Kadra and urge immediate action to intensify and end the conflict throughout the Tigre region,” Tibor Nagy tweeted.
“Restoring peace and protecting civilians is essential.”
Prime Minister Abi accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which rules the mountainous region of more than five million people, of treason and terrorism.
Federal forces say the TPLF has risen against them last week, but since then they have escaped the siege and recaptured the area west. With communications reduced and the media blocked, there is no independent verification of the status of the fight.
The TBLF has systematically persecuted Tigris since it came to power in April 2018, calling the military operation an “invasion.”
Federal forces have been conducting airstrikes and have been fighting on the ground since Wednesday last week.
Ethiopia has denied TPLF’s claim that federal jets tore down the power dam.
The new Tigre leader
Abi, who hails from Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, was named Tigre’s new leader by Mulu Nega, 52, a former Addis Ababa University educator and deputy minister for science and higher education.
There has been no immediate response to Mulu’s appointment from current Tigre leader Debrasion Zebramichel, despite central government directives to rescind it in local elections in September, or from other TPLF figures.
A prophecy written by Mulu on the Twente University website in the Netherlands, where he received his doctorate, states that his birthplace was Tigre.
The news came on Friday that the African Union (AU) had fired its security chief, an Ethiopian national, after the Abi government accused him of treason.
Coalition chair Moussa Faki Mohammed ordered the removal of Gibrigziaber Mebratu Melis in a November 11 memo seen by Reuters after the Ethiopian defense ministry wrote with concerns.
Rashid Abdi, an expert on the Horn of Africa, said that Zibriziaber was a Tigrian, and that his departure from the AU was part of an attempt by the Abi government to sideline prominent Tigris.
He also referred to the removal of Tigrian officers since the beginning of the military offensive, saying “purging effective Tigrian officers in the midst of conflict (security and military) is not good for the courage of the service”.
“It also serves to convey the notion that it is essentially a racial war disguised as a central-peripheral power struggle.”
However, Abi urged Ethiopians this week not to target the Tigris. “We must all be our brother’s keeper by protecting the Tigreans from any negative pressures,” he said.
The opening of his political space since taking office in 2018 has exposed the racial cracks of Africa’s second-largest population of 115 million.
Before the Tigre fire, clashes killed hundreds and displaced hundreds of thousands.
Ingopian police visit the UN World Food Program (WFP) office in the Amhara region and request a list of Tigrian staff.
The local police chief told them about “the process of identifying ethnic Tigris from all government agencies and NGOs”, highlighting the racial emphasis of the conflict. Tigre and its rulers returned to Abi on the Amhara border.
The United Nations told police it did not identify personnel by race. There was no immediate comment from Amhara regional police or the government.
The rights group Amnesty International said on Thursday that scores and hundreds of civilians had been stabbed to death in the region on November 9, citing witnesses who blamed the TPLF.
Rebellion denies it to Reuters.
More than 14,500 Ethiopian refugees – half of them children – have fled to Sudan since the fighting began, and aid agencies say the situation in Tigre is deteriorating.
There are also concerns about the massive evacuation of thousands of Eritrean refugees in a camp in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia’s national army is the largest in Africa. But its best warriors came from Tigre and had a lot of its hardware under Northern Command.
The EU is headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. About 4,400 Ethiopian troops are serving in its Somali peacekeeping force.
Separate 500 Ethiopian troops from the AU peacekeeping force have been deployed in Somalia and returned home in early November, three sources told Reuters.
“The protracted internal conflict will cause devastating damage to both Tigre and Ethiopia, which will undermine key development progress. In addition, it could cross borders and destabilize the entire sub-region,” said Bachelet.