Ethiopian Leader Sees Military Operations in North Ending Soon
Fighting in northern Tigray region continues for sixth day
- Hostilities stoke fear of war that could destabilize region
(bloomberg)—Ethiopia’s prime minister said he expects conflict in the north of the country to end quickly, dismissing concerns that the fighting may escalate into a full-blown civil war.
Federal soldiers continued to clash Monday with fighters loyal to the Tigray region’s ruling party, six days after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered forces to respond to an alleged attack on a federal army camp. The conflict has stoked fears of a broader war at a time when the government is struggling to end ethnic violence shaking Africa’s second-most populous country.
“Concerns that Ethiopia will descend into chaos are unfounded,” Abiy said in a statement on Twitter. “Our rule-of-law enforcement operation, as a sovereign state with the capacity to manage its own internal affairs, will wrap up soon by ending the prevailing impunity.”
The yield on Ethiopia’s $1 billion of 2024 Eurobonds climbed for a fourth day on Monday, bringing its increase since Nov. 3 108 basis pointst to the highest level since June 15, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
So far, the bulk of the fighting has been on the western end of the Tigray-Amhara regional border, where Abiy said on Friday the army wrapped up its first phase of operations. On Sunday, government jets bombed sites near the Tigrayan capital of Mekelle, according to two people who asked not to be identified because they’re not authorized to speak to the media.
There’s been no official word on the death toll, though diplomats said last week there have been dozens of casualties.
Federal troops and regional special forces are now amassing in eastern Tigray’s Afar region, foreign diplomats said Monday on the condition of anonymity in order to not disclose military details. That area could become the next major flashpoint in the conflict, they said.
State Minister of Foreign Affairs Redwan Hussein didn’t respond to a request for comment sent by mobile phone.
Relations between Tigray and Abiy’s government have been strained since the premier took office in 2018 and sidelined the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, once the pre-eminent power broker in Ethiopia. Last month, the federal parliament ordered the Treasury to halt direct budgetary support to the Tigrayan administration for defying an order to postpone regional elections.
The conflict may distract the government from implementing reforms including opening up Ethiopia’s telecommunications and other state-dominated industries to outside investors.
It may also jeopardize negotiations with China for a debt-service moratorium, potentially deferring $2.1 billion in payments in 2020-23 may be at risk, and $2.2 billion of World Bank loans that were projected to be disbursed between 2021 and 2023, said Mark Bohlund, senior credit research analyst at REDD Intelligence.
The International Monetary Fund is following developments closely, a spokesman said in an emailed response to questions. “We remain in regular contact with the Ethiopian authorities and continue our engagement,” he said.
The conflict in Tigray has led to shortages of fuel and food in the region, said Sajjad Mohammad, the head of the United Nations humanitarian office in Ethiopia. Fuel shipments from neighboring Sudan and Djibouti to Tigray have dried up, giving the region about a week before supplies run out, he said.
There’s a risk of a humanitarian crisis developing in the region, with 9 million vulnerable to displacement, Mohammad said.
“There are already almost 2 million people who receive some kind of humanitarian aid in Tigray,” he said.