Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has order the military to start an operation in the restive, opposition-controlled region of Tigray to “save the country” in the wake of an alleged attack on government troops early Wednesday morning.
“Our defence forces…have been ordered to carry out their mission to save the country. The final red line has been crossed. Force is being used as the last measure to save the people and the country,” Abiy indicated, his remarks posted on his official Twitter and Facebook pages.
In a televised address, the prime minister described the details of the suspected attack on the government forces in the region, saying it caused “many martyrs, injuries and property damage”, and accusing the attackers of “trying to loot” federal forces’ military assets, including artillery from a local base.
“The government tried to avoid war, but war can’t be avoided by one side,” Abiy said.
A state of emergency has been introduced in Tigray for a period of six months, with the prime minister’s office describing the situation as having reached a critical juncture in which it can no longer be controlled “through regular law enforcement mechanisms” alone.
Tigray, under the control of Prime Minister Abiy's political rivals, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), held regional elections in September. Addis Ababa, which ordered elections to be postponed in March on the pretext of the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, dismissed the vote as null and void. Both sides have since accused one another of preparing for an armed conflict.
In the wake of Abiy's announcement, Tigray’s local government issued a statement saying that federal military forces’ Northern Command had defected to the regional forces’ side. Addis Ababa has dismissed this information as “false”.
Internet and telephone services have reportedly been disabled in the region.
Ethnic Tigrayans have long played an outsized role in Ethiopia relative to their overall number: about 6 percent of the country’s overall population of 109 million people. TPLF leader Meles Zenawi served as Ethiopia’s prime minister between 1995 until his death in 2012.
On Tuesday, Ethiopia’s parliament proposed designating the TPLF as a “terrorist organisation”. On Monday, Tigray region President Debrestion Gebremichael told reporters that federal forces might try to mount a military offensive as ‘punishment’ for September’s regional elections.
Federal authorities accused the TPLF of provocations and incitement for violence of a period of several months. Addis Ababa has also accused the TPLF of organizing irregular militias “outside the constitutionally mandated structure.”
Last week, the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based non-profit and think tank, warned that any new conflict between federal forces and Tigray troops may “threaten the Ethiopian state’s integrity".