Abiy says he remains committed to peace – even if it costs “cost” – but the latest attacks will not go unanswered.
Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has vowed to repel attacks by the country’s “enemies” after rebels in Tigray launched a new offensive to retake territory in the war-ravaged region.
This week Tigrayan forces claimed a series of gains on the battlefield in a new assault that comes two weeks after the federal government declared a unilateral ceasefire in the face of rebel advances.
The latest push by the rebels followed the marvelous recovery of the regional capital, Mekelle, last month by federal forces, a turning point in an eight-month brutal conflict that killed thousands and left hundreds of thousands stranded. of people facing famine.
On Wednesday, Abiy said he remained committed to peace – even if it was “costly” – but these latest attacks will leave no answer.
“We must defend and repel these attacks from our internal and external enemies as we work to accelerate humanitarian efforts,” he said in a statement posted on Twitter.
Abiy, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops to Tigray last November after accusing the region’s once-dominant ruling party of orchestrating attacks on Ethiopian military bases.
He said Ethiopia had demonstrated its willingness to end hostility in the northern mountainous region.
“We have undertaken a unilateral ceasefire to avoid further conflicts, to provide people with a recovery during the agricultural season, and to allow relief operations to proceed without excuse,” he said.
“Even though we knew peace would cost some money for us, we took the peaceful option.”
But he said Ethiopia’s enemies were “unable to rest without conflict” and accused him of using child soldiers.
He urged Ethiopians to remain united and stand behind the Ethiopian army and to resist “external pressure and internal provocation”.
The ruling party won the recently concluded parliamentary elections in a bid that boosted Abiy’s power in the country plagued by conflict.
A spokesman for the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) told the AFP news agency on Tuesday that they had seized Alamata, the main city south of Tigray, and had driven it into the western part of the region where the fertile agricultural lands have long been contested. The region’s main party, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), has recently been recognized as the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF).
The rebel claims could not be confirmed independently as communications were largely lacking in the area, but the United Nations and humanitarian sources have reported fighting around the towns of the western Tigray and in a refugee camp.
Abiy and Ethiopian officials have characterized their withdrawal of troops from Mekelle as a strategic move while the TDF has described it as a major victory for the rebels, and the statement to cease fire is a “mockery”.
However, they later agreed “in principle” while demanding the withdrawal from the region of forces from neighboring Eritrea and the Amhara region in Ethiopia.
The war, characterized by terrible massacres and rampant sexual violence, damaged Abiy’s position as a reformer and peacemaker, and severely strained Ethiopia’s ties with traditional allies.
Western powers have demanded that the ceasefire be accompanied by unrestricted access to aid and the retreat of Eritrean troops, warning of possible sanctions in case these conditions are not met.
The World Food Program said this week that it had come to Mekelle with food, but much more was needed to address the massive need in a region where the UN says famine conditions are already present.