Ethiopia’s Abiy replaces army chief as Tigray casualties mount
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed replaced his army chief on Sunday, as scores of soldiers were reportedly wounded in a five-day-old conflict in the country’s northern Tigray region.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner separately called for the international community to understand the military operation he launched this week against the Tigray ruling party, which he has accused of seeking to destabilise the country.
Abiy said the once-dominant Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) had “sponsored, trained and equipped any force that was willing to engage in violent and illegal acts to derail” the democratic transition he has pursued.
“I personally call upon the international community to understand the context and the consistent transgressions by the TPLF clique” which.Pope Francis added his voice to mounting concern from abroad of a slide into protracted civil conflict, calling for Ethiopia to “reject the temptation of armed confrontation”, urging prayer and dialogue.
Tigray regional president Debretsion Gebremichael in a televised statement called for the African Union “to play its role to prevent Ethiopia from spiralling into civil war.”
Abiy also on Sunday replaced army chief General Adem Mohammed with his deputy Berhanu Jula, without giving a reason.
And he replaced the foreign minister, federal police commissioner and transferred the president of Amhara region to head Ethiopia’s intelligence service.
The announcement came as a medical official told AFP that nearly 100 government soldiers had been treated for gunshot wounds at a hospital in the northern Amhara region, the latest indication of intense fighting. Abiy and military leaders have touted Ethiopian soldiers’ successes against forces loyal to the Tigray ruling party, but a communications blackout in the region has made their accounts difficult to verify.
– Long running feud –
On roads in the northern part of Ethiopia’s Amhara region, ambulances could frequently be seen ferrying wounded combatants to hospitals.
In the town of Sanja, 98 government soldiers have been treated for “gunfire” injuries, a doctor told AFP.
“We have had 98 cases. All of them are soldiers from the national army,” said the doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
He said none had died at the hospital, but noted that more serious cases were transported to larger hospitals in the city of Gondar and elsewhere.
Reports of dead and wounded soldiers have mounted in recent days in Amhara, where a humanitarian aid worker said three died and 35 were treated on Saturday. On Friday 105 were reported injured and five killed in the region.
The TPLF dominated politics in Ethiopia for nearly three decades before Abiy came to power in 2018.
Under Abiy, Tigray’s leaders have complained of being unfairly targeted in corruption prosecutions, removed from top positions and broadly scapegoated for the country’s woes.
Abiy accused the party which “played a leading role in the systemic abuse of human rights and massive corruption” of seeking to derail his reformist agenda.
The long-running feud became more intense after Tigray held its own elections in September, defying Abiy’s government which had decided to postpone national polls due to the coronavirus pandemic.
And this week Abiy accused the TPLF of attacking a military base, which the party denies, sparking the military intervention.
Abiy ordered airstrikes on military assets in the Tigrayan regional capital Mekele, while warning more would be on the way and urging civilians to avoid gatherings to limit “collateral damage.”
A UN advisory distributed Sunday morning reported an “ongoing air strike in Mekele” close to the airport, with an update specifying “there was only one strike heard and the related ripost [sic] from the ground.”
Berhanu said Sunday that federal forces had “fully destroyed the heavy weaponries of the traitorous clique”, a reference to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the regional ruling party.
Berhanu also said federal forces had “completely captured” four towns in western Tigray, where much of the fighting has reportedly been concentrated.
A UN report dated Saturday called on warring parties to allow humanitarian access in Tigray, warning that conflict-related disruptions were “contributing to the worsening of the humanitarian context”.
It noted that the region houses 100,000 displaced Ethiopians, nearly 100,000 refugees and “approximately 600,000 people dependent on food relief assistance”.
All told nearly nine million people near Tigray´s borders are “at high risk due to this conflict”, the report said, raising the possibility of “massive displacements within and outside of Ethiopia.”
Lawmakers on Saturday voted to suspend Tigray´s current leaders and install a caretaker administration.
SR News Update
Heavy casualties have been reported in ongoing clashes between the Ethiopian army and troops loyal to the ruling party of the restive northern province of Tigray.
At least six people were killed and 60 people wounded and in one location along the Tigray and Amhara border alone, Doctors Without Borders said on Saturday, and a medical official said nearly 100 government soldiers had been treated for gunshot wounds at a hospital in the northern Amhara region.
The Ethiopian prime minister and last year’s Nobel peace prize winner, Abiy Ahmed, sent federal troops and aircraft into Tigray on Wednesday in a major escalation of a long-running feud.
The fighting has brought Africa’s second-most populous nation to the brink of what analysts say could be a long and bloody civil war.
Abiy and military leaders have touted Ethiopian soldiers’ successes, but a communications blackout in the region has made their accounts difficult to verify. Both sides have access to heavy weapons, armour and considerable stocks of ammunition. Abiy also replaced his army chief on Sunday and appointed the deputy chief, Berhanu Jula, to take charge over the Ethiopian National Defence Force. The move was part of a wider reshuffle that appeared to be aimed at bringing the most vocal supporters of the Tigray operation to the forefront.
Ambulances can frequently be seen ferrying wounded combatants to hospital on roads in northern Amhara,, and there have been eyewitness reports of funerals for militia men.
“We have had 98 cases. All of them are soldiers from the national army,” said a doctor in the town of Sanja, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said there had been no fatalities at the hospital, but that more serious cases had been transported to larger hospitals in the city of Gondar and elsewhere.
Reports of dead and wounded soldiers have mounted in recent days in Amhara, where a humanitarian aid worker said three had died and 35 had been treated on Saturday. Five were reported killed and 105 injured on Friday.
Countries in the region fear the fighting could spark an all-out civil war and destabilise the Horn of Africa, one of the continent’s most fragile regions. The UN has warned of a major humanitarian crisis if as many as 9 million people flee all-out fighting or Tigray remains largely cut off from the world.
In a televised address on Sunday, Abiy accused Tigray’s regional leaders of preparing for war with the federal government since 2018. The group had siphoned development funds to buy weapons and train militias, he said.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front dominated politics in Ethiopia for nearly three decades before Abiy came to power in 2018 after anti-government protests. It now only controls its home province.
Tigray’s leaders have complained of being unfairly targeted in corruption prosecutions, removed from top positions and scapegoated for the country’s woes under Abiy.
The long-running feud became more intense after Tigray held its own elections in September in defiance of Abiy’s government, which had decided to postpone national polls because of the coronavirus pandemic.
MPs voted on Saturday to suspend Tigray’s leaders and install a caretaker administration in the province. In the capital, Addis Ababa, the mayor announced on Sunday that 10 high-ranking city officials from Tigray had been arrested, accusing them of “betraying the people” and working “to destabilise the peace in our city and engage in cruel and terroristic motives”.
But in a Twitter post Sunday, Abiy called on Ethiopians to avoid discriminating against Tigrayans, who make up about 6% of the country’s 110 million people. “I would like to reiterate that no Tigrayan brother or sister should be a victim of identity-based illegal acts, and this responsibility lies on all Ethiopians,” he said.
The Ethiopian authorities have not yet formally responded to a request for dialogue from the UN secretary general, António Guterres.
SR News Media Monitoring Team
#Getachew Reda confirmed that the #Tigray administration downed an Ethiopian fighter jet that was to strike military facilities in around Makelle, capital of the Tigray region.
#Getachew who seems to be the spokesperson for the #TPLF administration twittered that it’s been four days since #Abiy Ahmed waged open war in Tigray. As part of his promise to kill innocent children in Tigray, he has been sending a warplane almost every day.
Getachew further says, we have downed one today. Tigray didn’t wage war, it is defending itself. We will pay him in his coins. Getachew concluded.Nonetheless, as the report of dowing the Ethiopian Jet increases, there is yet no immediate response to validate or deny the report from Abiy administration.
Ethiopia’s Tigray region’s president says it is good to try to negotiate
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s Tigray region president, Debretsion Gebremichael, said on Sunday it would be good to try to stop the fighting with federal troops and negotiate.
The region will keep on defending itself until federal authorities agree to negotiate, Debretsion told Reuters, adding that the federal government has lost authority there, and it was still pounding some targets with air strikes.
Report reaching us from reliable sources that are closely following the ongoing conflict between Abiy and Tigray administration indicates that a fighter jet that was about to strike near Mekelle was shot down and crashed around Aragure, on the outskirts of Mekelle.
No immediate response from the Abiy administration to verify or deny the reported incident.