Tag Archives: Tigray

Ethiopia confirm rape reports in Tigray war.

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The UN said last month it had received “disturbing” reports of sexual violence in Tigray, including of individuals forced to rape members of their own family.

Rape has “without a doubt” taken place during the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, a government minister said, corroborating eyewitness reports and warnings from the UN.

The statement Thursday night from women’s minister Filsan Abdullahi Ahmed marks the first official acknowledgement of crimes activists fear have been widespread.

A government taskforce “unfortunately established rape has taken place conclusively and without a doubt,” Filsan said on Twitter.

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Law enforcement officials “are currently processing the data in terms of numbers,” she said, expressing hope that perpetrators will be “brought to justice”.

Filsan did not say which forces were responsible for rapes documented by the government taskforce.

But multiple women have told AFP about being raped by Eritrean forces, whose presence in Tigray is widely documented but officially denied by Addis Ababa and Asmara.

Friday marked the 100th day of fighting pitting forces loyal to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government against troops supporting the ruling party of Tigray, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

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Though Abiy declared victory in late November when the Ethiopian military entered the Tigrayan capital Mekele, the TPLF vowed to fight on, and aid workers say persistent insecurity is hampering the humanitarian response.

Thousands have died in the conflict, according to the International Crisis Group, and tens of thousands of refugees have streamed across the border into Sudan.

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But humanitarian and media access restrictions have made it difficult to assess conditions on the ground.

The UN said last month it had received “disturbing” reports of sexual violence in Tigray, including of individuals forced to rape members of their own family.

A ‘big’ step
Sehin Teferra, founder of Ethiopian feminist organisation Setaweet Movement, told AFP it was “a big thing” that Filsan acknowledged rape had happened in Tigray.

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“It’s really, really hard to talk about in terms of numbers and to verify rape anywhere. All we know is it’s happening on a large scale and we know that from firsthand reports,” she said.

Some parents in Tigray are shaving their daughters’ heads and dressing them “as boys” to protect them from rape, she said, adding that her organisation had received multiple accounts of rape committed by Eritrean soldiers.

It is important for the government to follow through on promises to investigate and provide support to victims, Sehin said.

She also called for authorities to investigate rape in other conflict zones in Ethiopia, including in the western zone of Metekel where inter-ethnic violence is intensifying.

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“We really shouldn’t forget about other active conflicts,” she said.

“I know everybody’s resources are stretched, but it’s really important to acknowledge that rape happens everywhere.”

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#Newsworthy

Ethiopia strikes deal with United Nations to allow aid workers access Tigray.

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UN refugees chief Filippo Grandi stressed the need for a more efficient system of facilitating access for aid workers and distributing aid.

The United Nations’ food agency says it has reached a deal with Ethiopia to expand access for aid workers and “scale up” operations in the country’s conflict-hit Tigray region.

David Beasley, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP), made the announcement late on Saturday amid growing fears of a humanitarian catastrophe in Tigray, a region of more than five million people.

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on November 4 ordered air raids and a ground offensive against Tigray’s former governing party – the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – after its forces attacked federal army bases in the northern region. Abiy declared victory on November 28 after the TPLF withdrew from the regional capital, Mekelle, and other main cities, but low-level fighting has continued.

Thousands of people are believed to have died and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes since fighting began. Both sides deny their forces have committed atrocities, and blame their rivals for the killing of civilians.

Top UN officials and international NGOs have repeatedly complained about access restrictions to Tigray.

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The government and the WFP “have agreed on concrete steps to expand access for humanitarians across Tigray, and WFP will scale up its operations”, Beasley said on Twitter following a visit to the Mekelle.

“Nearly 3 million people need our help NOW and we have no time to waste,” he added.

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A WFP statement said Ethiopian officials had agreed to speed up reviews of aid workers’ requests to move within the embattled region.

The WFP’s statement also said the agreement had agreed to government requests to provide emergency food aid to one million people in Tigray and help with transport to hard-to-reach rural areas.

Ethiopian Peace Minister Muferihat Kamil said in a separate statement the government was “moving with urgency to approve requests for international staff movements into and within Tigray”.

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The new terms fall “under the existing agreement” between the government and the UN on aid, according to the WFP statement.

That agreement restricted UN access to areas under government control. In early December, a UN team visiting refugees in Tigray region was shot at after failing to stop at two checkpoints, according to the government.

But a senior UN official told the AFP news agency the progress was nevertheless “significant” and would facilitate access deeper into Tigray.

“It’s not good enough to just stick to the safe routes, the secure routes,” the official said. “Our role is to be determined to get to where the last person in need is, and the presence of militias should not really hamper us.”

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The WFP statement noted that “armed escorts for humanitarian cargo and personnel will be undertaken as a last resort”.

The conflict has displaced tens of thousands of people [Ashraf Shazly/AFP]

Tigray remains largely cut off to media, making it difficult to assess the situation on the ground.

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The UN official noted that “insecure areas [are] were “many and significant”.

A new UN report earlier this month said life for civilians in Tigray has become “extremely alarming” amid growing hunger and a “volatile and unpredictable” security situation.

“Reports from aid workers on the ground indicate a rising in acute malnutrition across the region,” it said, according to The Associated Press news agency. “Only 1 percent of the nearly 920 nutrition treatment facilities in Tigray are reachable.”

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Starvation has also become a big concern. “Many households are expected to have already depleted their food stocks, or are expected to deplete their food stocks in the next two months,” according to a new report posted on Thursday by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, which is funded and managed by the United States.

The report said more parts of central and eastern Tigray likely will enter Emergency Phase 4, a step below famine, in the coming weeks.

The government has played down fears of widespread starvation while touting its own efforts to meet the needs of the population. It says it has provided emergency food aid to 1.8 million people.

During a visit to Ethiopia last week, UN refugees chief Filippo Grandi stressed the need for a more efficient system of facilitating access for aid workers and distributing aid.

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“We heard from everywhere, including from the local authorities, that more is needed” beyond what the government is providing, Grandi said.

“The situation as I said is very grave, is very urgent. Without further action, it will get worse.”

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#Newsworthy

United Nations ‘still hopes for humanitarian access’ to Tigray.

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Western powers have argued that the influx of refugees into neighbouring Sudan was a humanitarian crisis requiring international intervention.

Every member of the UN Security Council called for increased aid during a closed-door meeting Wednesday to discuss the humanitarian situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, according to diplomats.

The meeting had been requested by Ireland, Estonia, France, Norway, Britain and the United States.

“Everyone said there should be more humanitarian access,” one diplomat said under condition of anonymity, though no official statement was released after the discussions.

There was never meant to be a declaration passed, according to the same diplomat, though another said the idea was abandoned because African members of the council had said they would refuse to vote for one, deeming it unproductive.

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Meetings on the situation in Tigray have been few and far between since the Ethiopian military operation began in November, with African countries, in particular, preferring to treat the conflict as a domestic matter.

But Western powers have argued that the influx of refugees into neighbouring Sudan was a humanitarian crisis requiring international intervention.

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The Security Council also failed to produce a declaration after other closed-door meetings on November 24 and December 14.

Youngsters play in front of a damaged truck belonging to the Ethiopian Defense Forces in the village of Bisober, in Ethiopia’s Tigray region on December 9, 2020. – Tigrayan forces settled in the school several months ago. The November 14 killings represent just one incident of civilian suffering in Bisober, a farming village home to roughly 2,000 people in southern Tigray. In retrospect, Bisober residents say, the first sign of the conflict came seven months ago, when members of the Tigray Special Forces took over the village elementary school, which had been emptied because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Mid-December announced two deals with Ethiopian authorities that should have allowed access to the country.

But opportunities to deliver aid remain fragile, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday.

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“Very little is being allowed in,” he said.

“What we need is to be able to just get in there in an unfettered manner without having to, I guess, negotiate for every truck, for every box.”

“We work cooperatively with the government, and it’s their country … we have to go through them, and that’s the way it should be,” Dujarric said.

“But there is a grave humanitarian need in Tigray, and at this point, we’re not able to reach the people that need to be reached.”

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High-level UN figures visited Ethiopia this week, including the high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi and UN undersecretary-general Gilles Michaud — while a visit from World Food Program chief David Beasley is expected in the coming days, according to diplomats — to try to gain access to refugee camps.

Akshaya Kumar of the NGO Human Rights Watch said: “The Security Council should hold a public session followed by a strong resolution demanding an end to aid obstruction and immediate investigation of war crimes” in Ethiopia.

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#Newsworthy

Tigray conflict ‘tickles’ land dispute

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Yet any attempt by Mulu to exert authority over Alamata is unlikely to go over well.

As rifle-toting militiamen fired celebratory rounds into the air, young men marched through the streets denouncing the former ruling party of Ethiopia’s Tigray region as “thieves.”

The party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), is the target of military operations ordered by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, last year’s Nobel Peace laureate, that have reportedly left thousands dead since early November.

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But the impromptu parade this month in Alamata, a farming town in southern Tigray flanked by low, rolling mountains, was unrelated to any kind of battlefield victory.

Rather it was to hail the release of Berhanu Belay Teferra, a self-described political prisoner under the TPLF whose pet issue, analysts warn, risks becoming Ethiopia’s next flashpoint.

In 2018, Berhanu, 48, was detained by the TPLF for advocating that his homeland — located in an area known as Raya, of which Alamata is the biggest city — had no business falling under Tigrayan control.

Berhanu argued that the TPLF had illegally incorporated the famously fertile land into Tigray after it came to power in the early 1990s.

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He was detained for more than two years — enduring beatings and long stretches of solitary confinement in a cave — before pro-TPLF forces, fleeing the government’s assault in November, let him go, setting the stage for his triumphant homecoming.

Now reunited with his wife and four children, Berhanu is back to agitating for the transfer of Alamata and its surroundings to Ethiopia’s Amhara region, which borders Tigray to the south.

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“We don’t want to live with Tigray people, who don’t know our culture and traditions,” Berhanu told AFP a few days after the parade marking his return — a moment of joy he said was unrivalled by every other event in his life besides his wedding.

Risking ‘bloodshed’
Raya is not the only place in Tigray where, since the onset of fighting on November 4, some residents have been clamouring for change.

A similar dynamic is playing out in western Tigray, where activists and politicians also accuse the TPLF of annexing land historically administered by ethnic Amharas.

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In both areas, Abiy is, at least for the time being, relying on Amhara special forces to provide security now that the TPLF has been kicked out.

Amhara officials are leading transitional administrations in multiple towns and cities.

And the word “Amhara” has been scrawled on countless abandoned homes and shuttered storefronts like a hastily graffitied claim of ownership.

William Davison, Ethiopia analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG), described what’s happening in western and southern Tigray as “unconstitutional de facto annexations” that “set a destabilising precedent for the federation”.

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Some newly-installed officials make clear they want nothing to do with Tigray, raising the possibility of future conflict over the land.

“First we were forced to become part of [Tigray]. Now by force this area is liberated,” said Alamata’s new mayor, Kassa Reda Belay, adding he hoped Abiy would “answer the question of the people” — meaning place the area under Amhara authority.

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“If not, there will be a lot of bloodshed, and there will be a civil war,” Kassa said.

Path ahead uncertain
It is not clear what the federal government’s long-term plans are for the contested territory.

The Amhara region’s president, Agegnehu Teshager, has said Amhara security forces did not get involved in the conflict to reclaim land.

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But Zadig Abraha, Ethiopia’s democratisation minister and an Alamata native, told AFP that the city could one day fall under Amhara control.

“The people have asked loud and clear to be part of it. There is a possibility for that to happen and we will have to wait for some time,” Zadig said.

In the meantime, Abiy’s government is working to prop up a caretaker administration in Tigray led by Mulu Nega, a Tigrayan former higher education official.

“If Dr Mulu Nega comes here, there will be two or more demonstrations against it. We don’t want him to come. From now on… we want to live with Amhara people,” said Kassa, the Alamata mayor.

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‘I don’t feel safe’
That kind of language strikes fear into the hearts of men like Hailay Gebremedhin, a Tigrayan who has owned a clothing shop on Alamata’s main street for six years.

In November, when fighting broke out in the mountains around Alamata, he stuffed his sneakers and other merchandise into burlap sacks and ran home, where he huddled for weeks.

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Hailay reopened his shop earlier this month because he’d run out of money and food, but he’s not sure what kind of life he and his fellow Tigrayans can have in the city.

“I don’t feel safe here because there are people going around saying, ‘Oh, we’ve defeated them, we’ve broken them, now they will leave,’” he said.

The ICG’s Davison said “there is likely to be sustained Tigrayan resistance if territories are taken out of Tigray, in the same way that Amhara activists have long agitated for the ‘return’ of them.”

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There are also some activists who believe Raya should become its own region, belonging to neither Tigray nor Amhara.

For now, though, such voices are quiet in Alamata.

Hailay told AFP he’s afraid even to speak in Tigrinya, the Tigrayan language, for fear of reprisals from Amhara officials and security forces.

As he spoke, he looked out towards the roundabout where large crowds gathered during the parade welcoming the return of Berhanu, the self-described political prisoner.

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Planted in the grass was a picket sign that, to Hailay’s mind, read like a threat.

“The Amharas wait patiently,” it said, “but they cannot be broken.”

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#Newsworthy

Tigray Conflict: Ethiopian PM, Abiy meet with AU envoys

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It was unclear Friday whether the attack on Mekele had begun, or how close federal forces were to the city

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Friday met with African Union envoys to discuss the conflict in Tigray, where the army is poised for what he has called the final offensive against regional forces.

Abiy, the winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, on Thursday announced a “third and final phase” in his campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), whose forces have been battling federal troops in the defiant northern region for three weeks.

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The violence has killed many hundreds and displaced tens of thousands more, but there are grave fears for half a million civilians in Mekele, the regional capital, which the army says it has encircled ahead of a threatened attack.

The international community has warned such a strike could violate rules of war and has called for urgent mediation.

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Addis Ababa has refused to negotiate with the TPLF and Abiy has rebuffed calls for dialogue as “interference” in Ethiopia’s internal affairs.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 17, 2018 Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed delivers a speech during the 11th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. – Ethiopia’s army chief of staff has been shot, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced on television on June 23, 2019 as the government said it had thwarted an attempted coup in a regional state of this Horn of Africa nation. (Photo by Monirul BHUIYAN / AFP)

But the prime minister received at his office in Addis Ababa on Friday three African ex-leaders — Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa — dispatched this week by the AU as mediators.

In a statement issued after their meeting, Abiy said he appreciated “this gesture and… the steadfast commitment this demonstrates to the principle of African solutions to African problems.”

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Even so, the government has a “constitutionally mandated responsibility to enforce rule of law in the region and across the country,” he said.

Many attempts, he added, had been made to negotiate with the TPLF before military action was ordered on November 4.

The conflict has erupted in a year when the 55-member AU — which is headquartered in Addis Ababa — resolved to play a more prominent role in resolving conflicts across the continent under the slogan “Silencing the Guns”.

The AU called for an immediate halt to hostilities on November 10 but the conflict only spiralled further, with warplanes bombing the mountainous region and both sides claiming the upper hand.

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Humanitarian crisis
Tigray has been under a communications blackout since fighting began, making it difficult to weigh competing claims about casualties, and who holds what territory.

The state-affiliated Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation said late Thursday the army — which in recent days said it was advancing on Mekele with tanks — had identified key TPLF hideouts across the city, including an auditorium and a museum.

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Abiy, who ordered the strike on TPLF forces in Mekele after the lapsing of a deadline for their surrender, said “great care” would be taken to protect innocents and spare the city from severe damage.

The prospect of a full-scale attack accelerated diplomatic efforts this week to resolve the conflict, with the UN Security Council holding its first meeting on Tigray and US and European officials urging restraint.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who met his Ethiopian counterpart Demeke Mekonnen in Paris on Thursday, called for urgent measures to protect civilians as the humanitarian fallout from the crisis worsens across the region.

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The UNHCR said Friday that nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray could run out of food as early as Monday if supplies cannot reach them.

In eastern Sudan, meanwhile, where more than 40,000 refugees have escaped the fighting in Tigray, local authorities are struggling to meet the sudden surge in demand for food, shelter and other life-saving essentials.

The UNHCR said Friday that a plane carrying 32 tonnes of emergency aid had arrived in Sudan, and another airlift with 100 tonnes was expected Monday.

Refugees crossing the border said those still trying to reach Sudan were cutting across fields to avoid detection by Ethiopian troops, who they said were blocking the main exit route from Tigray.

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Abiy ordered the military into Tigray after alleged attacks by TPLF forces on federal army camps in the region.

The TPLF dominated Ethiopian politics and controlled its security for the better part of three decades until Abiy rose to power in 2018, beginning a power struggle between the former rulers and the new leader.

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#Newsworthy

Tigray crisis: Uganda’s Museveni urges dialogue with Ethiopia’s Abiy

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Hundreds have died and thousands have fled the country amid airstrikes and heavy fighting that observers fear could lead to a protracted civil war.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Monday met with Ethiopia’s foreign minister to discuss the growing conflict in that country, urging negotiations between warring parties.

Museveni met with Demeke Mekonnen, Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, to discuss the almost two-week-old conflict in the dissident northern region of Tigray.

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced November 4 he had ordered military operations in Tigray in a dramatic escalation of a long-running feud with the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

“A war in Ethiopia would give the entire continent a bad image,” Museveni wrote on Twitter after the meeting in the northern town of Gulu.

“There should be negotiations and the conflict stopped, lest it leads to unnecessary loss of lives and cripples the economy.”


#Newsworthy…

Tigray conflict: Ex President of Nigeria moves to Ethiopia

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Abiy has previously said any talks can’t begin until the TPLF is fully disarmed, resisting calls from world leaders for an immediate end to hostilities.

Nigeria’s ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo on Monday jetted to Ethiopia to mediate in the conflict between the government and the northern Tigray region, his spokesman said.

“He is on his way to Addis Ababa for talks,” Kehinde Akinyemi told AFP on the visit of the former Nigerian leader to the Ethiopian capital.

“He is going there for mediation,” Akinyemi said, without giving further details.

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Both the Ethiopian government and the African Union said they had no information on any visit by Obasanjo, who has previously acted as a United Nations peace envoy in DR Congo.

Ethiopia’s central government announced a military operation in the northern Tigray region on November 4 in a dramatic escalation of a long-running feud with the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The fighting — which has sent thousands fleeing over the border into Sudan — has sparked fears of civil war and concerns it could spread across the region after rockets were fired at an airport in neighbouring Eritrea.

The attack on Saturday was claimed by TPLF which has accused Eritrea of backing the government.

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office on Monday dismissed claims from Ugandan officials that President Yoweri Museveni would meet with representatives of both sides in an effort to facilitate talks.

Ugandan officials told AFP over the weekend those meetings would begin Monday in Uganda and would involve Demeke Mekonnen, Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister.

“The claims by various news outlets that Ethiopian officials are expected to take part in mediation talks with TPLF in Uganda are inaccurate and not substantiated,” a government statement said.


#Newsworthy…

Just in: Ethiopian forces seize Airport after fight escalates in Tigray region.

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Tigrayans say Abiy’s government has unfairly targeted them as part of a crackdown on past rights abuses and corruption.

The Ethiopian military has seized the airport near the town of Humera amid a nearly week-old conflict in the northern Tigray region.

The state media announcement on Tuesday about the capture of the airport, 67km (42 miles) south of Humera, came as fighting continued with reports of Ethiopian government forces capturing territory.

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“The Ethiopian National Defense Force has fully captured Humera Airport amid [a] continuation of [the] government’s military response against TPLF rebel group,” Fana TV reported, referring to the organisation that leads the government in the Tigray region.

Humera is located in the far northwest of the country near Ethiopia’s borders with Sudan and Eritrea.

A telephone and internet communications blackout in Tigray has made it difficult to verify the situation on the ground.

The African Union on Tuesday called for an immediate ceasefire.

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“The chairperson [Moussa Faki Mahamat] appeals for the immediate cessation of hostilities and calls on parties to respect human rights and ensure the protection of civilians,” the AU bloc said in a statement, also urging talks.

The leader of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, meanwhile, accused Eritrea of sending soldiers over the border to attack local forces.

In a statement on local TV, Debretsion Gebremichael gave no evidence for what would be a major escalation.

“Since yesterday, the army of [Eritrean leader] Isaias [Afwerki] have crossed the country’s boundary and invaded,” he said. “They were attacking via Humera using heavy arms.”

Eritrea’s government the accusation. “This is an internal conflict, we are not part of the conflict,” Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed said.

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‘No rebuffing of anyone’
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office said he is not ignoring international calls for calm over the escalating conflict that many fear is sliding towards civil war.

The violence in the northern area bordering Eritrea and Sudan threatens to destabilise Africa’s second-most populous country. Ethnic conflict in the region has simmered since Abiy took over in 2018.

“There is no rebuffing of anyone by the prime minister. He had acknowledged and given gratitude for the concerns shown,” Abiy’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum said in response to a request for comment on a diplomat’s assertion that Abiy was “not listening to anyone”.

“Nevertheless, Ethiopia is a sovereign nation and its government will ultimately make decisions in the long-term interest of the country and its people.”

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The United Nations also has pressed Abiy – a former soldier who once fought alongside Tigrayans against Eritrea – to start a dialogue.

Abiy, the continent’s youngest leader at 44, won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for democratic reforms and for making peace with Eritrea.

But last week, the prime minister, who is from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group the Oromo, launched a campaign against forces loyal to ethnic Tigrayan leaders in the northern region. He accused them of attacking a military base.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the latest conflict, sources on the government’s side said on Monday. But Abiy said fears of chaos were unfounded.

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Leaders of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region said on Monday the federal government led by Abiy had launched more than 10 air raids against them in recent days.

Meanwhile, the newly appointed Ethiopian army chief, Berhanu Jula, said federal forces had captured four towns in western Tigray where much of the fighting has reportedly been concentrated.

Ethiopian TV broadcast images of what it said were Ethiopian government forces entering the border town of Dansha in Tigray. Footage showed residents celebrating and cheering the arrival of government soldiers.

The public broadcaster also showed images of what it alleged were Tigrayan militia who surrendered. Ethiopia’s air force is “pounding targets with precision”, a military official said Monday.

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Neighbouring Sudan has reportedly sent more than 6,000 troops to the border.

Up to 250,000 fighters
Tigrayans account for just 6 percent of Ethiopians but had, before Abiy’s rule, dominated politics for nearly 30 years.

They are battle-hardened from the 1999-2000 war with neighbouring Eritrea and from the struggle to topple Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991. They and allies number up to 250,000 fighters and possess significant stocks of military hardware, according to the International Crisis Group think-tank.

All-out war would damage Ethiopia’s economy after years of steady growth. Abiy has pledged sweeping reforms to open lucrative sectors such as telecommunications to foreign investment.


#Newsworthy…