Thousands flee Ethiopia conflict, anti-Tigray protests planned
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopian refugees were flooding into Sudan on Wednesday as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal troops battled well-armed local forces in Tigray and protests against the northern region’s leaders were planned elsewhere.
With outsiders barred and communications down, it was hard to know how Abiy’s week-long offensive against regional rulers the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was progressing.
But security sources and state media have spoken of hundreds of deaths in the mountainous state of more than 5 million people, where federal warplanes have been pounding arms and fuel depots as soldiers fight on the ground.
Both sides have claimed successes, including federal troops taking an airport and Tigrayans alleging they downed a jet, but verification has not been possible. The government has confirmed, however, that the TPLF controls a compound of the powerful Northern Command military in Tigray’s capital Mekelle.
Given deep antipathy between the Tigrayans and Abiy, who comes from the Oromo, the largest ethnic group, plus ethnic frictions all around Ethiopia, there are fears of civil war and knock-ons around the Horn of Africa region.
Ethiopia reached a peace agreement with neighbouring Eritrea two years ago, for which Abiy won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, and the government in Asmara shares his hostility to the TPLF.
Abiy’s government also has troops deployed in Somalia helping to combat an Islamist insurgency.
Sudan said more than 10,000 Ethiopians had already fled across the border.
“We are in a very critical humanitarian situation because these numbers, which we expect to increase, are greater than our capabilities, and there is an acute shortage of food, shelter and treatment,” said Alsir Khaled from the refugees commission in eastern Sudan.
Abiy, who at 44 is Africa’s youngest leader, launched operations in Tigray last week after accusing the local government there of attacking a military base.
The United Nations, African Union and others want a ceasefire, but diplomats believe Abiy is intent on crushing the Tigrayan leaders. “We won’t rest till this junta is brought to justice,” he tweeted late on Tuesday.
The U.S. State Department’s top diplomat for Africa, Tibor Nagy, spoke on the phone with Ethiopian Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen, the state-affiliated Fana broadcaster said.