Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali yesterday ordered federal military forces to launch a “final offensive” on the Tigray capital: Mekelle after its 72-hour ultimatum for dissident local leaders to surrender has expired. In a statement posted on social media, Abiy Ahmed said great care will be taken to protect innocent civilians from harm and said government troops will work to ensure that the city of Mekelle, which has a population of over 700,000, will not “seriously damaged“. “We call on the people of Mekelle and its surroundings to disarm, stay home and stay away from military targets [and]to do their part in reducing the damage incurred by a handful of criminal elements” Ahmed said.
The tones used by the prime minister on the fate of civilians are diametrically opposed to the scandalous statements made by the spokesman for the federal army, Deijene Tsegaye four days ago. “The conquest of Mekelle is near. The citizens of the city are informed of the directive to dissociate themselves from the regional council and to flee, after which there will be no mercy”. Statements that had found silent consent from Parliament and the federal government.
The change of tone was necessary as the prime minister, pushing on nationalistic rhetoric, promoting ethnic hatred, failed to achieve a quick victory, as hoped, increasing the concerns of the international community about the risk of genocide. Furthermore, 18 days after the start of the conflict, evidence and testimonies of atrocities and war crimes committed on civilians by the federal army and its allied Asmara militias are emerging.
National public opinion, after initial support for the Abiy military campaign (due to resentments for the management of power with an iron fist exercised by the TPLF for almost 30 years) is now significantly decreasing. More and more Ethiopians fear a long-lasting conflict that compromises the national economy already tested by the pandemic from Covid19 and an intervention by various international actors with the risk of creating a situation similar to the civil wars in Yugoslavia, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
A fear, the latter, justified given the presence in Tigray of Eritrean troops and UAE war drones in support of federal troops. There are strong suspicions that Egypt and Sudan are supporting the regional government of Tigray. If the conflict were to perish, there are high chances of direct Egyptian and Sudanese involvement against the federal government due to the unresolved dispute over the exploitation of the Nile waters and the Ethiopian mega-dam “Great Renaissance”.
The disastrous humanitarian situation of the Tigrigna population, caused directly by the military offensive wanted by Prime Minister Abiy to resolve a strictly political problem, is beginning to emerge in all its drama. The United Nations says the shortages caused by the conflict and the land and air blockade imposed by the federals have become very critical, with fuel, food, medicines and money running out.
Diplomatic sources report that the TPLF was forced to requisition food for almost 100,000 refugees from Eritrea present in the refugee camps of Tigray in order to meet (even if partially) the food needs of its population. More than 600,000 people who depend on monthly food rations did not receive them this month. The land and air blockade is so severe that within Mekelle, the United Nations World Food Program cannot transport food from its warehouses. Communications and travel links with the Tigray region have remained cut off since the conflict broke out and Human Rights Watch warns that “actions that deliberately prevent relief supplies” violate international humanitarian law.
The openly genocidal statements by the Federal Army General Staff have created international outrage causing the loss of the most important ally: the United States. Initially US have clarified their support to military campaign against TPLF by the American Ambassador to Ethiopia, Michael Raynor during a meeting with Prime Minister Abiy. US Ambassador support have been reinforced by the United States Deputy Secretary for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, who blamed the Tigray authorities for the attempt to oust Abiy and reclaim the national political power they had lost since taking office in 2018. “This is a faction of the government that manages a region in Ethiopia that has decided to re-engage in hostilities against the central government. Right now I think their tactics have had the opposite effect to that ello they were planning ” Raynor told the Ethiopian media.
Yesterday, November 25, the United States National Security Council terminated the initial war support offered by the outgoing Trump administration, saying it fully supports the African Union’s attempts for a ceasefire and national dialogue to restore peace in Ethiopia. Now the United States joins the UN, Pope Francis and the Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte in order to impose an immediate ceasefire and the start of peace negotiations on the warring parties.
Despite the pressure exerted now by the United States, the Prime Minister still tries to reject any truce and negotiations, continuing to define his main political opponent: the TPLF a “criminal junta”. Cunningly, Abiy hides her past within the TPLF-dominated ruling coalition where she held important social control roles via communications that contributed to the repression of thousands of political opponents, before receiving (from the TPLF) the post of prime minister in the 2018. The last minute efforts of the African Union and the United Nations to defuse the crisis have failed. Abiy rejected international “interference” on Wednesday.
The rejection of requests for ceasefire and opening of negotiations is simple to understand. The federal government hopes to close the game against the TPLF within a few days with the conquest of Mekelle. If the conflict were to last beyond Addis Ababa’s rosy expectations or if it turned into a protracted guerrilla war, probably the former Nobel Peace Prize winner now in the role of the merciless General and Warlord could accept a form of dialogue to get out of a quagmire of war that he himself created.
Yesterday the United Nations Security Council, meeting for the Ethiopian crisis, asked the warring parties for an immediate ceasefire, to allow the opening of humanitarian corridors in order to assist civilians, support and defend the Eritrean refugees who risk to suffer reprisals due to the military intervention of their government, to accept the mediation of the African Union.
Peace now depends on the outcome of the offensive on Mekelle. Debretsion Gebremichael, the leader of the TPLF, on Tuesday, November 24, declared that his people were “ready to die” defending their homeland. The obstinacy of the warring parties’risks transforming the beautiful city of Tigray into an African Sarajevo.
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