Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict escalates as leader claims Eritrea is participating in a ‘full-scale war’

Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict escalates as leader claims Eritrea is participating in a ‘full-scale war’

The leader of Ethiopia’s restive Tigray region has confirmed firing missiles at neighbouring Eritrea, which has been accused of sending in its military to participate in a “full-scale war”.

Key points:

  • Tigray’s regional leader has confirmed his personnel were responsible for firing missiles into Eritrea
  • He claims that 16 Eritrean army units are operating in Tigray at the invitation of Ethiopia
  • The UN says Ethiopia is on a “dangerous trajectory” that heightens the risk of genocide

(abc)–The leader of Ethiopia’s restive Tigray region has confirmed firing missiles at neighbouring Eritrea, which has been accused of sending in its military to participate in a “full-scale war”.

Tigray regional President Debretsion Gebremichael would not say how many missiles were fired at the city of Asmara on Saturday, but said it was the only city in Eritrea that was targeted.

At least three rockets appeared to be aimed at the airport in the Eritrean capital, hours after the Tigray regional Government warned it might attack.

The confirmation comes after at least 34 people were killed in a “gruesome attack” on a passenger bus in the western Benishangul-Gumuz Region on Friday night, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said.

It said there were also “reports of similar attacks” in other parts of that region. It is unclear who the attackers were.

‘We will fight them on all fronts’

Tigray’s leaders have accused Eritrea of attacking at the invitation of Ethiopia’s Government in wake of the regional conflict which erupted on November 4 with an attack by Tigray’s forces on an Ethiopian federal military base.

In a security alert, the US embassy in Eritrea said “a series of loud noises were heard in Asmara” on Saturday night.

“Unconfirmed reports indicate they may have been explosive devices believed to be in the vicinity of the Asmara International Airport,” it added.

“There are no indications the airport was struck.”

Tigray’s regional leaders had dominated federal Ethiopian politics, until it broke away last year.(AP: F Duckett)

Mr Debretsion says about 16 Eritrean military divisions are fighting in what he has called a “full-scale war” in the region, and denies reports Tigray regional forces have entered Eritrea.

“As long as troops are here fighting, we will take any legitimate military target and we will fire,” Mr Debretsion said.

The Tigray regional leader would not say how many missiles remained at his forces’ disposal but said: “We have several. We can use it selectively, anywhere.”

When asked about targeting Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, he replied: “I don’t want to tell you, but the missiles are long-range as well.”

Eritrean officials have not responded to requests for comment.

Ethiopia’s brewing conflict pits a regional Government that once dominated the country’s ruling coalition against Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose sweeping reforms have marginalised Tigray’s leaders.

Tigray’s heavily armed regional Government broke away from Ethiopia’s ruling coalition last year. It objects to the postponement of national elections until next year, which extends Mr Abiy’s rule. In September Tigray held a regional election in defiance.

Each side regards the other as illegal, and Addis Ababa says Tigray’s ruling “clique” must be arrested and have its arsenal destroyed.

Mr Abiy has refused to recognise the Tigray regional government.(Reuters: Tiksa Negeri)

Further escalation in the region could fracture a key US security ally and destabilise the strategic Horn of Africa, with the potential to send scores of thousands of refugees into Sudan.

While the African Union is pushing for a ceasefire, Mr Debretsion said Mr Abiy was “not ready to listen” and “believes in the might he has”.

Mr Abiy declared that “Ethiopia is more than capable of attaining the objectives of the operation by itself”.

His office in a separate statement said “we will see this operation to its end”.

Mr Abiy has rejected international pleas for an immediate de-escalation as his Government refuses to regard the Tigray regional Government as an entity with which to negotiate.

‘This is genocide’

Amid a communications blackout, Tigray residents had crossed the Setit River into Sudan.(Reuters: El Tayeb Siddig)

The United Nations and others have warned of a looming humanitarian disaster in the growing conflict as at least 20,000 refugees have fled into Sudan.

UNHR Data showed more than 12,500 crossed at Hamdayat and nearly 7,500 to the south at al-Luqdi in the week from November 7.

Communications and transport links with the Tigray region remain almost completely severed, and millions are at risk as food, fuel and other supplies run low.

Over the border in Sudan, the refugees — roughly half of them children — huddled in makeshift tents of sheets, even umbrellas, as authorities rushed to organise assistance in the remote area and more arrivals were on the way.

“The situation is very bad at the moment,” Jens Hesemann with the UN refugee agency said in Hamdayet town, which he described as a generous but “very burdened” community.

On Thursday, officials at the UN Office of Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect warned that the conflict was on a “dangerous trajectory” that “heightens the risk of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”.

One newly arrived Ethiopian refugee in Sudan, Fabrik Tessafay, suggested that Tigray was already experiencing what the UN has warned about.

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