Alarm grows as Ethiopian civil conflict turns into internationalised | Ethiopia
Thousands of Ethiopian refugees continue to pour into Sudan, escaping a worsening conflict that has spread beyond Ethiopia’s borders and threatens to destabilize the Horn of Africa region.
The United Nations Refugee Agency announced on Sunday that more than 20,000 people from Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region entered Sudan, where federal government troops are fighting forces belonging to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the regional government’s party, are loyal to you. Almost 25,000 refugees were counted in the Sudanese state media.
It came after the TPLF leader said Sunday that his armed forces fired a volley of rockets into neighboring Eritrean capital, Asmara, late Saturday. Debretsion Gebremichael also alleged that 16 Eritrean military divisions are fighting with the Ethiopian government forces against the TPLF forces – a claim that both the governments in Addis Ababa and Asmara have denied.
“Those who attack Tigray will not just attack and return home. We will return the favor while they are here and attack the airports they launched attacks from, ”Debretsion said. “There is no place where we cannot react.”
Although it could not be determined whether the rockets fired on Asmara had caused casualties (Eritrea is one of the most secluded states in the world), the attack marked a significant escalation in the nearly two-week war that killed hundreds of people.
“This takes the conflict to a whole new level,” said Mohammed Adow of Al Jazeera from the Ethiopian city of Gondar. “It has spilled over the borders of Ethiopia and now another country, Eritrea, is being sucked in.”
The governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea agreed in 2018 to end decades of hostilities. This led Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. However, there is still deep-seated animosity between the government of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and the battle-hardened TPLF over the devastating border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea between 1998 and 2000, in which around 70,000 people died.
“President Isaias sees the Tigrayans as his nemesis in the world and is determined to get rid of them,” Martin Plaut, an expert on the Horn of Africa, told Al Jazeera.
“The Tigrayans are now in a pincer movement – from the north and south, from Eritrea and from the federal forces from Addis Ababa,” he said. “They are fighting for their lives, there is no way they can give up.”
Plaut added, “In a way, Prime Minister Abiy has skipped himself in a corner too, so any suggestion that this will be a brief conflict is likely wrong unless the international community is under great pressure on both sides to do so to resolve conflict. “
Abiy, however, declined mediation efforts and internationally called for immediate de-escalation in order to “see this operation to the end”. “Ethiopia is more than capable of achieving the objectives of the operation on its own,” he said in a statement that made no mention of the attack on Eritrea. “Justice will prevail. Ethiopia will prevail!”
But as the conflict drags on, there is growing concern that other external forces may also be involved. Senior TPLF official Getachew Reda claimed on Twitter on Sunday, without providing evidence, that Abiy “is now enlisting the assistance of drones from the UAE [the Eritrean city of] Assab in his devastating war against the people of Tigray ”. There was no comment from the United Arab Emirates.
@AbiyAhmedAli is now committed to supporting the # UAE drones stationed in Assab in its devastating war against the people of #Tigray. Meanwhile, the Tigray Defense Forces in Eritrea have targeted facilities such as Asmara Airport that are being used to launch attacks on Tigray.
– Getachew K Reda (@reda_getachew) November 15, 2020
“The UAE used the ports of Assab on the Eritrean coast for their campaign in Yemen, so they had assets there – although these were used as the extent of the conflict there [in Yemen] has also disbanded, ”Dino Mahtani of the International Crisis Group told Al Jazeera.
Mahtani called Abu Dhabi a “critical” actor in the region and said: “The UAE has been an important diplomatic partner in the background bringing Ethiopia and Eritrea together under Abiy’s watch. The UAE has also made financial contributions to stabilize the Ethiopian economy. “
In a statement on Twitter on Sunday, Tibor Nagy, the US Deputy Secretary of State in Africa, said Washington “strongly condemns” the “unjustifiable” attack by the TPLF on Eritrea “and its efforts to internationalize the conflict in Tigray.
However, analysts agreed that the civil war in Ethiopia had already become an international issue.
“There is no question that this conflict is going to be internationalized,” Matt Bryden, strategic advisor for the Sahan Research think tank, told Al Jazeera. “It is likely that, given the extent of the forces involved and the extent to which they are relatively evenly matched, more and more neighbors, regional partners and international actors from Ethiopia will be involved.”
The TPLF was the leading force in Ethiopian politics after the end of communist rule in 1991, but the party’s dominance ended when Abiy took office in 2018. Relations between Tigray and the federal government in Addis Ababa have deteriorated since then, and the TPLF leaders have left the Ethiopian coalition government amid complaints of Abiy wrongly attacked and increasingly incapacitated.
Tensions reached a focal point earlier this year when Abiy postponed the national elections to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic and Tigray held its own local vote in September despite Addis Ababa calling it illegal. Abiy then declared a state of emergency and started a military operation in Tigray on November 4th after an alleged attack on Bundeswehr troops stationed there.
“Tigray sees himself as a defender of his own sovereignty, the unity of the Ethiopian federal government – so this is an existential conflict between the two sides,” said Bryden.
“The Tigray area favors the defenders, who are very heavily armed and equipped. You have fought in these mountains for decades and the longer it takes, the more complaints will accumulate and the more difficult it will be to resolve this conflict. “
Plaut, meanwhile, warned of the “real danger” that other ethnic groups – in a country which has seen a number of incidents of intercommunal and ethnic violence in recent years – are now exposed to a civil war into which they are “drawn or felt could they could be drawn in ”.
“There is a real fragility,” he said.
In Hamdayeet, Ethiopian children can be seen who have fled the ongoing fighting in the Tigray region [El Tayeb Siddig/Reuters]As fighting intensifies in Tigray, ethnic profiles and massacres have been reported, and both sides have been accused of atrocities, forcing thousands to flee to Sudan while the humanitarian disaster unfolded.
Axel Bisschop, UNHCR representative in Sudan, said half of the more than 20,000 people who seek refuge are children.
“A lot of people come without anything. They have no way of actually surviving, so we have to take care of them, ”he told Al Jazeera, describing an“ urgent ”situation that required international attention to meet the growing need for food and purified water.
📢 On Saturday, the number of refugees entering Sudan from #Ethiopia 𝘀𝘂𝗿𝗽𝗮𝘀𝘀𝗲𝗱 𝟮𝟬, 𝟬𝟬𝟬.
Medical staff from clinics in Tigray support other refugees (Sudanese communities provide food and tents) while UNHCR and partners step up their support (pic.twitter.com/82BV1uEgHk)
– UNHCR in Sudan (@UNHCRinSudan) November 15, 2020
Al Jazeeras Hiba Morgan, who reported from the refugee reception center in the border town of Hamdayeet, said the refugees were living in poor conditions.
“Most of them live outdoors without shelter or adequate sanitation,” Morgan said. “This is a concern for aid agencies, especially medical professionals, who say this will lead to a health crisis.”
She reported that doctors in the area said many of the arriving people suffered from chest infections and malaria, “due to exhaustion after days of travel due to fighting in the Tigray region,” with more expected in the coming days.
“Sudan expects up to 200,000 refugees in the next week,” said Morgan, adding that the country is appealing to aid agencies for help.
Ethiopian researcher and lawyer Mastewal Taddese said the refugee crisis was “really worrying”.
“People just had to pack up and leave without ever thinking of going home,” Taddese told Al Jazeera. “The abundance of refugees will affect the limited resources there [in Sudan] and will create problems for existing refugees. “