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Ethiopia’s prime minister vows ‘final and crucial’ offensive in Tigray

Ethiopian refugees in eastern Sudan
Ethiopian refugees in eastern Sudan on Sunday.
(Marwan Ali / Associated Press)

Ethiopia’s prime minister says that a “final and crucial” military offensive against the government of the country’s rebellious northern Tigray region will launch in the coming days.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a social media post Tuesday that a three-day deadline given to the Tigray region’s leaders and special forces “has expired today.”

Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, continues to reject international pleas for dialogue and de-escalation in the two-week-old conflict, which has spilled into neighboring Eritrea and sent more than 25,000 Ethiopian refugees pouring into Sudan.

Some 4,000 refugees keep arriving every day, a “very rapid” rate, U.N. refugee agency spokesman Babar Baloch told reporters in Geneva. “It’s a huge number in a matter of days. ... It overwhelms the whole system,” he said, warning of a “full-scale humanitarian crisis.”

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That remote part of Sudan hasn’t seen such an influx in two decades, he said.

Observers fear that an all-out civil war in Ethiopia could destabilize the strategically important Horn of Africa region. Neighboring nations including Uganda and Kenya are calling for a peaceful resolution, but Abiy regards the Tigray regional government as illegal after it held a local election in September in defiance of his administration, which postponed elections until next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tigray government, in turn, objects to the postponement and considers Abiy’s federal government illegitimate, saying its mandate has expired.

Africa’s second-most populous nation and its northern Tigray region wage war against each other in a clash that threatens to send millions of civilians fleeing for safety into politically fragile neighboring countries.

Ethiopia’s federal government Tuesday confirmed that it had carried out new airstrikes outside the Tigray capital of Mekele, calling them “precision-led and surgical” and denying the Tigray government’s assertion that civilians had been killed.

Tigray TV showed what appeared to be a bombed-out residential area, with damaged roofs and craters in the ground.

“I heard a sound of some explosions — boom, boom, boom — as I entered the house,” the station quoted a resident as saying. “When I got out later, I saw all this destruction. Two people have been injured. One of the injured is the landlord, and the other is a tenant just like us.”

Communications and transportation links with the Tigray region remain almost completely cut off, making it difficult to verify either side’s claims.

Hungry, exhausted and scared, refugees from the Tigray region continue to flow into Sudan with terrifying accounts of war.

“These people are coming with knives and sticks, wanting to attack citizens, and behind them is the Ethiopian army with tanks. The knives and the sticks aren’t the problem. It’s the tanks,” said one refugee, Thimon Abrah. “They struck and burned the entire place.”

Another refugee, Tedey Benjamin, called the conflict “a tribal war.”

Abiy said Monday night that his government was ready to “receive and reintegrate” the refugees and that federal forces would protect them.

But many refugees say those same forces sent them fleeing.


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