Ethiopia’s prime minister rejects growing international consensus on dialogue and a halt to deadly fighting in the Tigray region as “interference”, saying his country will handle the conflict on its own.
“We respectfully urge the international community to refrain from any unwelcome and illegal interference,” said the statement from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office on Wednesday, quoted by the Associated Press (AP), as government forces surrounded the capital, Tigray, Mekele. “The international community should be on standby until the Ethiopian government submits its requests for assistance to the community of nations.”
Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, insists on calling the conflict a “law enforcement operation” while his ultimatum for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) leader to hand over ends before a final press release to arrest them.
Abiy’s government has warned Mekele’s half a million residents to move away from TPLF leaders, otherwise there will be “no mercy” – a language that the UN human rights chief and others have warned could lead to “further violations of international humanitarian law” .
Communication is almost completely interrupted to the Tigray region with about 6 million people. It is not clear how many people in Mekele are aware of the warnings and the threat of artillery.
A news agency in Ethiopia’s Amhara region said on Wednesday that more than 10,000 Tigrayan troops had been “destroyed” during a three-week conflict raging in the mountainous north.
The report from the regional government-run AMMA agency in Amhara, where authorities support Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal forces, could not be verified and there was no immediate response from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), according to Reuters.
The TPLF dominated the Ethiopian government for more than a quarter of a century but was shut down after Abiy took office in 2018 and sought to centralize power in a country that has long ruled along ethnic lines. The TPLF opted out when Abiy dissolved the ruling coalition and then outraged the federal government by holding elections in September after national elections were postponed by COVID-19. Each side now considers the other illegal.
The international community has urgently demanded that communication be restored to the Tigray region so that the claims of warring parties can be investigated, and so that food and other desperately needed supplies can be sent as hunger grows.
The UN says it has not been able to send supplies to Tigray since fighting began on November 4, when Abiy accused the TPLF of attacking a military base. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people have been killed in three weeks of fighting. More than 40,000 refugees have fled to Sudan. And nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees in camps in northern Tigray have come close to the line of fire.