Ethiopia Tigray crisis: Conflict worsens as airports attacked
Forces in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region have fired rockets at airports in a neighbouring state, as their conflict with the government grows.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls Tigray, said it had targeted the two sites in Amhara state and warned of further strikes.
Tension between Ethiopia’s government and the TPLF has escalated into military clashes in the past month.
Hundreds have died, with reports of a civilian massacre emerging this week.
Human rights group Amnesty International said it had confirmed that “scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or hacked to death” in the town of Mai-Kadra (May Cadera) on 9 November.
Priister Abiy Ahmed has accused forces loyal to Tigray’s leaders of carrying out the mass killings, while the TPLF has denied involvement.
Mr Abiy ordered a military operation against the TPLF earlier this month after he accused them of attacking a military camp hosting federal troops – claims the TPLF deny. There have since been a number of clashes and air strikes in the region.
The fighting has forced at least 17,000 civilians to cross the border into Sudan, according to the UN.
Getting independently verified information about the situation in Tigray is difficult because phone lines and internet services are down.
Kalkidan Yibeltal, the BBC correspondent in Addis Ababa, says the the conflict “is escalating and things are getting worse”.
“Humanitarian agencies are not able to provide assistance because of the fighting and since transport has been interrupted. So we’re seeing more and more dire reports of the human cost of this conflict.”
What do we know about the rocket attack?
The Ethiopian government’s emergency task force said rockets were fired towards the cities of Bahir Dar and Gondar, in Amhara state, late on Friday.
An Ethiopian woman, who fled her home due to ongoing fighting, is pictured at a refugee camp in the Hamdait border area of Sudan’s eastern Kassala state on November 12, 2020.
An official told Reuters news agency that one rocket hit the airport in Gondar and partially damaged it, while a second fired simultaneously landed just outside of the airport in Bahir Dar.
Details on casualties were not immediately clear. Both airports are used by military and civilian aircraft.
Forces from Amhara have been fighting alongside their federal counterparts against Tigray fighters.
The TPLF said the rocket attacks were retaliation for recent air strikes conducted by Mr Abiy’s forces.
“As long as the attacks on the people of Tigray do not stop, the attacks will intensify,” spokesman Getachew Reda said in a Facebook post.
Speaking later on Tigray TV, the spokesman warned of further strikes. He said Asmara in Eritrea could be targeted too, stoking fears of the fighting spreading to the neighbouring country.
Ethiopia’s prime minister has predicted a swift military victory in Tigray, but he may have underestimated his enemy, says the BBC’s African regional editor Will Ross.
Tigrayan troops are experienced and know the mountainous terrain well, he says. There are fears that a drawn-out regional conflict would have horrific consequences for civilians in Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa.
Were there mass killings in Tigray?
Amnesty said evidence showed that “scores” of people were killed and wounded in knife and machete attacks in Mai-Kadra.
It said it had seen and “digitally verified gruesome photographs and videos of bodies strewn across the town or being carried away on stretchers”.
Amnesty said the victims appeared to be labourers not involved in the conflict. It is not clear where they came from.
Some witnesses said the attacks were carried out by forces loyal to the TPLF after they had been defeated by federal troops in an area called Lugdi.
Tigray leader Debretsion Gebremichael told AFP news agency that the accusations were “baseless”.
Ethiopia’s human rights commission said it would send a team to investigate.
What is life like in Tigray?
Communication is difficult at the moment because internet and mobile phone services have been cut.
There are already reports of a shortage of flour and fuel – and, worst of all, water, which was already rationed.
In Mekelle, which has a population of between 400,000 and 500,000, homes used to get piped water once a week, but the supply has stopped.
Families used to buy water from vendors, but with phones disconnected they can no longer call to put in orders.
On Thursday it was reported that a power-generating dam had been damaged in an air strike, cutting electricity supply in the region.
I am anxious about the safety of my family, especially my 11-year-old brother who is suffering from cerebral palsy and epilepsy.
I am extremely worried about whether he will get his medication.
As he cannot talk, I used to see him during video calls but that is now not possible.
Why are the Ethiopian government and TPLF fighting?
Tension has been mounting for some time as relations between the TPLF and the federal government have deteriorated.
The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s military and political life for decades before Mr Abiy took office in 2018 and pushed through major reforms.
Last year, Mr Abiy dissolved the ruling coalition, made up of several ethnically-based regional parties, and merged them into a single, national party, which the TPLF refused to join.
The feud escalated in September, when Tigray held a regional election, defying a nationwide ban on all polls imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Mr Abiy responded by calling the vote illegal.
Tigray’s administration sees Mr Abiy’s reforms as an attempt to hand his central government more power and weaken regional states.
It also resents what it calls the prime minister’s “unprincipled” friendship with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.
Mr Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his efforts to bring peace with long-standing foe Eritrea.
The prime minister believes TPLF officials are undermining his authority.
Mr Abiy ordered the military operation against the TPLF after he said its fighters had crossed “the last red line”. He accused them of attacking a military camp hosting federal troops on 4 November, calling the action “treasonous”. The TPLF has denied attacking the camp. BBC News