Ethiopia’s Tigray rebel forces fired rockets into the city of Bahir Dar in the Amhara region on Friday but caused no damage, the regional government said.
The conflict in northern Ethiopia has killed hundreds over the past two weeks, sent 33,000 refugees into Sudan, and called into question whether Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – Africa’s youngest leader and last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner – can hold his ethnically divided nation together.
The northern-based Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) effectively ruled Ethiopia for decades as the strongest force in a multi-ethnic coalition, until Abiy took power two years ago.
“The illegal TPLF group have launched a rocket attack around 1:40 a.m. in Bahir Dar,” the regional government’s communications office said on its Facebook page.
“The rockets have caused no damage.”
Amhara state has sent troops into Tigray in support of Abiy.
Ethiopia said on Thursday it was closing in on Mekelle, the capital of Tigray region.
Africa’s second most populous nation of 115 million people, Ethiopia is a federation of 10 states run by separate ethnic groups. The latest war has pitted the central government against one of the most heavily militarised regions.
Meanwhile the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has denied accusations made by Ethiopia’s army chief that he helped to procure weapons for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The TPLF is fighting federal troops.
Dr Tedros is Tigrayan and was health minister in a previous Ethiopian government, which was led by the TPLF.
“There have been reports suggesting I am taking sides in this situation. This is not true,” he wrote on Twitter.
“I want to say that I am on only one side and that is the side of peace,” he added.
His comments come after Gen Berhanu Jula said in a press conference that Dr Tedros had “left no stone unturned” to support the TPLF and help get them weapons. He did not provide any evidence to support his allegations.
Hundreds have died in the conflict in Tigray since the beginning of November.
“My heart breaks for my home, Ethiopia, and I call on all parties to work for peace and to ensure the safety of civilians and access for health and humanitarian assistance,” Dr Tedros tweeted.
Earlier, Gen Berhanu said: “We don’t expect him to stand on the side of Ethiopians and condemn these people. He has been doing everything to support them, he has campaigned for neighbouring countries to condemn the war,” said Gen Berhanu.
“He has worked for them to get weapons.”
After being voted in as the head of the WHO in 2017, Dr Tedros became well known at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and is now arguably the highest-profile Tigrayan abroad.
The UN’s refugee agency warns that a full-scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding. More than 30,000 people have crossed the border from Ethiopia into Sudan.
Thousands of civilians are continuing to flee across the border, the UN Refugee Agency’s representative for Sudan, Axel Bisschop told the BBC’s Newsday programme.
“I spoke to a banker, some teachers, health workers, and they all say that it was too dangerous to be there… and they left by foot,” he said.
The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s military and politics for decades before Abiy Ahmed became prime minister in 2018. He pushed through major reforms which some say sidelined the TPLF.
The feud escalated in September when Tigray held a regional election, defying a nationwide ban on all polls imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Abiy called the vote illegal.
Then fighting broke out on 4 November after Ethiopia’s central government accused the TPLF of attacking a military base to steal weapons.