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Ethiopia: Tigrayan forces claim major towns

October 31, 2021

Ethiopian authorities called on people to join the armed struggle against the Tigrayan insurgents. Amhara government officials declared a state of emergency in the region.

Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters on a truck as they arrive in Mekele, the capital of Tigray region, Ethiopia
The claimed takeover would be a major advance by the TPLF into central EthiopiaImage: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

The Ethiopian government on Sunday appealed for citizens to take arms against insurgent groups that claimed to have taken control of key towns in the year-long conflict.

The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) claimed it had captured the town of Kombolcha on the main road that links landlocked Ethiopia to the port in Djibouti.

Additionally, insurgents from the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) also claimed they defeated government forces in Kemise, 325 kilometers (200 miles) from the capital Addis Ababa.

What have the TPLF said?

TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda said in a post on Twitter that Tigrayan forces were "firmly in control of Kombolcha" and its airport on Sunday.

He said the TPLF "will cooperate with the UN in managing their aid efforts in Tigray and Amhara including by protecting their warehouses." The UN said the government had imposed a blockade on aid supplies to the war-torn regions.

If confirmed, it would be a major advance by the TPLF into central Ethiopia after it took most of Tigray from government forces in June. Kombolcha is located 375 kilometers from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Independent confirmation of the reports was hard to come by during a media blackout in the north of the country.

Odaa Tarbii, OLA spokesperson, said the group had taken nearby Kemise 53 km (33 miles) south of Kombolcha.

OLA is an outlawed splinter group from the Oromo Liberation Front, which formed an alliance with the TPLF in August.

What was the government's response?

The Ethiopian government has so far denied losing Kombolcha to the insurgents, insisting that it is still fighting for the key town.

Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu said that Ethiopian forces were in gun battles with the TPLF in Kombolocha and in the nearby town of Dessie, which are both in the Amhara region.

But Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in a Facebook post told Ethiopians to use "any types of weapons... to block the destructive TPLF, to overturn it and bury it."

Ethiopian air forces on Sunday bombed a "military training facility (that) served as a recruiting and training center," an Ethiopian government spokesperson said on Twitter.

People are seen in front of clouds of black smoke from fires in the aftermath at the scene of an airstrike in Mekele, the capital of the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia
Ethiopian government aerial attacks like this one have hit hard at the heart of TigrayImage: AP Photo/picture alliance

The Amhara Regional State Council declared a state of emergency, imposing an 8 p.m. curfew and ordering all government institutions to "direct their budget and all their resources to the survival campaign."

It ordered officials to "mobilize and lead... to the front" and urged citizens to provide private vehicles to help out in the campaign.

United States 'alarmed'

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concern over reports of Tigrayan forces taking over the two cities.

"Continued fighting prolongs the dire humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia. All parties must stop military operations and begin ceasefire negotiations without preconditions," Blinken said Monday. 

Washington has previously called on Tigrayan fighters to withdraw from the Amhara and Afar regions in northern Ethiopia and urged "all parties to the conflict to allow and facilitate unhindered humanitarian access," he added.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has accused the government of carrying out a de facto blockade of Tigray.

The UN says around 400,000 people are living in famine conditions in the Tigray region. The government has denied blocking aid.

jc/aw (Reuters, AFP, dpa)