Ethiopia Stages Airstrikes Targeting Rebel Region’s Capital
Ethiopia conducted airstrikes on Mekelle, the capital of the dissident Tigray region, as federal forces continue their attempt to take back ground lost to rebel fighters.
The aerial bombardment, which follows a week of escalated fighting, is the latest development in a conflict that’s dragged on for almost a year, left millions in need of aid and soured Ethiopia’s reputation as one of Africa’s hottest investment destinations. Both sides have claimed advances that couldn’t be independently verified.
The strikes targeted federal communication and security equipment that “have been misappropriated” by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, said by phone on Tuesday. “Civilians and civilian areas were not part of the target.”
The TPLF said civilians were targeted, contradicting the government assertions that the air force had taken measures to ensure innocent people weren’t harmed.
“Abiy Ahmed’s air force sent its bomber jet to attack civilian targets in and outside Mekelle,” TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said on Twitter. “Monday is market day in Mekelle and the intention is all too palpable.”
Tigray TV, which is controlled by the TPLF, reported that three civilians had been killed and three were injured. That was confirmed by a diplomat and a humanitarian worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, because they aren’t authorized to comment.
Conflict erupted in Tigray last November when Abiy ordered an incursion into the region after its forces attacked a federal army base. The United Nations estimates that about 5.2 million people have been left in need of assistance, and aid agencies have complained that they have been prevented from distributing food, medicine and other supplies.
The latest escalation in fighting comes as the U.S. and European Union consider imposing new economic sanctions against Ethiopia, the TPLF and neighboring Eritrea, which has backed Abiy throughout the war. Ethiopia has urged the U.S. to let it retain preferential market access under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, warning that its disqualification will put as many as 1 million jobs at risk.
The U.S. is looking into reports of the attacks on Mekelle and is “gravely concerned” about the escalating violence, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday. All parties need to enter into cease-fire talks without preconditions, he said.
“We have been very clear that we are prepared to use every tool at our disposal until and unless the various parties change their course,” Price said.
In a call with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday, Abiy said Ethiopia wouldn’t ease up humanitarian access for the U.N unless the TPLF withdrew forces that crossed Tigray’s borders into neighboring states, according to two diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity. TPLF rejected the demand, and instead called for the withdrawal of Eritrean forces, they said.
Guterres’s office said he had reiterated his call for an end to all hostilities, and described the reports of the aerial attacks, which apparently took place in Mekelle’s residential areas, as alarming.
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