The Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed has vowed to continue a military offensive in the northern state of Tigray despite international calls for restraint. Tensions between the state and the federal government have been building for months.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration accused Tigrayan forces of attacking a federal army base.
Meanwhile the Tigrayan president said that his region was in a state of war. In a statement on television, Debretsion Gebremichael said that resources would be mobilised in preparation for a conflict.
The state’s governing party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), was once at the centre of power in Ethiopia, but since Abiy became prime minister in 2018, it has been increasingly marginalised.
However, on Wednesday, amid the drama of the US election, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement calling for an end to any fighting.
“We are saddened by the tragic loss of life and urge immediate action to restore the peace and de-escalate tensions… the protection of civilian safety and security is essential,” he said in a statement.
In a televised addressAbiy, who won the Nobel peace prize last year, said the military’s operation was a success and would continue.
He said the operation was launched in response to a deadly attack on a military camp. He did not say how many people were killed.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, he said that he had ordered a military offensive after an army base was taken over by forces loyal to the regional government. He accused the TPLF of launching the attack.
The attack resulted in “many martyrs, injuries and property damage”, he said in a TV address.
Later on Wednesday, the BBC spoke to eyewitnesses who confirmed that the Northern Command Headquarters in Tigray’s regional capital, Mekelle, was under the control of the Tigray special forces. That does not appear to have changed.
Meanwhile Debretsion has said fighting is going on in the western part of his region that borders Amhara state.
He said federal troops, as well as members of soldiers from Amhara, jointly fought Tigray forces on Wednesday.
Debretsion added that his forces seized “almost all” the weaponry from the Northern Command Headquarters
“The people of Tigray shouldn’t be attacked with the weapons in Tigray. We are fully armed now. We are not inferior to them in terms of weaponry, maybe better.”
There were reports that the sound of gunfire could be heard early on Wednesday morning, but since then calm has returned to the city.
The telephone lines, internet and electricity have all been cut and banks are closed, but people are on the streets carrying on their normal activities, according to the BBC.
There is also a high security presence of members of the regional force.
The TPLF was the most powerful partner in Ethiopia’s governing coalition until 2018, when Abiy came to office following nationwide protests by ethnic Oromos. Since then, the party’s power has waned.
Abiy created a new governing party, but the TPLF did not join.
In September, the Tigrayan authorities went ahead with an election in defiance of a nationwide postponement that was put in place following the outbreak of coronavirus.
The federal government had described that election for the Tigray parliament as “illegal”.
Debrestion told reporters on Monday that the government was going to attack – alleging it was punishment for organising the election.
Abiy then accused the TPLF of attacking the military base and sent in the Ethiopian military.
The federal government has also declared a six-month state of emergency in the state of Tigray, and airspace in the region has been closed.