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Abiy vows 'final' phase in Ethiopia conflict

November 17, 2020

Ethiopia's prime minister has said government troops will launch a major offensive in the Tigray region after a surrender deadline elapsed. His remarks came after the army carried out airstrikes on the regional capital.

Ethiopian refugees in a truck in Sudan
Image: Marwan Ali/AP Photo/picture alliance

Ethiopian government troops will soon launch a "final and crucial" offensive in the country's northern Tigray region after security forces there failed to respond to a deadline to surrender, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Tuesday.

"The three-day deadline given for Tigray special forces and the greedy junta to surrender themselves has expired today," Abiy said in a statement. "Now the deadline has expired so that the final and crucial law enforcement operation will be conducted in the coming days," he added.

Fighting between the Addis Ababa administration and the Tigray region began in early November after Abiy ordered soldiers to put down an uprising by the region's ruling political party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). The party is now classed as a rebel group by the government.

Ethiopia aim to end the final operation within seven days, Ethiopian Defense Minister Kenea Yadeta told DW. He said the operation will end once the TPLF is "under control" and "willing to surrender."

"It is not a matter of victory, but a matter of ensuring the rule of law and bringing this group to the court of law," Yadeta said in an interview with DW News.

Read more: The dangers behind Ethiopia's Tigray conflict 

TPLF soldiers in a truck
TPLF forces have fired rockets at airports in Ethiopia's Amhara region and the Eritrean capitalImage: Tiksa Negeri/REUTERS

Long-running tensions

Since taking office in 2018, Abiy — who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his work to improve relations with neighboring Eritrea  — has been at loggerheads with the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopian politics for a long time. Among other things, he has purged Tigray elites from government and state institutions amid differences fueled by ethnic tensions.

In particular, the Ethiopian government was angered after the TPLF held a local election in September in defiance of Addis Ababa. In its turn, the regional government in Tigray considers the federal government illegal, saying its mandate has expired after national elections were postponed until next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ongoing conflict has already resulted in the massacre of "scores, and likely hundreds" of civilians in Tigray, according to rights group Amnesty International. Some 25,000 have fled to Sudan.

Abiy Ahmed speaking after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
Abiy won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize — but the Nobel Committee has said it is now 'deeply concerned'Image: Erik Valestrand/Getty Images

'Surgical' strikes

Abiy's remarks come after the Ethiopian army on Monday carried out fresh airstrikes on the regional capital of Mekele. A government statement on Tuesday said "precision-led and surgical air operations" had targeted "specific critical TPLF targets."

Ethiopia has denied reports of there being civilian casualties.

The UN has warned that the conflict could "spiral totally out of control" with disastrous consequences for the Horn of Africa.

The Ethiopian government has thus far been unwilling to accept external mediation. Defense Minister Yadeta insisted that the conflict in Tigray is "an internal affair."

"It doesn't need external institutions to intervene in Ethiopian sovereignty," Yadeta told DW. 

The TPLF has accused Ethiopia of enlisting Eritrean soldiers to help in the conflict, which Ethiopia also denies.

Abiy has so far rejected all appeals by the international community to resolve the conflict with dialogue.

tj/msh (AFP, Reuters)