Ethiopia’s spreading conflict has escalated after the government warned that it could deploy its “entire defensive capability” against the restive Tigray region after advances by rebels into neighbouring regions.
After the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebuffed calls on Friday to withdraw from the neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions, the government in Addis Ababa said the rebels were testing its patience and threatening the ceasefire called in June.
Ethiopia’s foreign ministry said the Tigray forces’ incursion into Amhara and Afar was pushing the government “to change its defensive mood which has been taken for the sake of the unilateral humanitarian ceasefire”. The incursions have displaced some 300,000 mense, het dit gesê.
Ethiopia could “deploy the entire defensive capability of the state” if overtures for a peaceful resolution to the conflict are not reciprocated, the statement said.
A further escalation came when an Amhara regional official said it would launch an offensive on Saturday after Tigrayan forces entered the region and took control of a town hosting a Unesco world heritage site.
“This is the time for the Amhara people to crush the terrorist group,” Sema Tiruneh, the Amhara region’s head of peace and security, told state media. “Everyone should come forward and defend themselves.”
In response, Tigray forces’ spokesman Getachew Reda told Associated Press his region would “extend a warm welcome”.
Getachew said Tigray forces had crossed into Amhara and Afar in an attempt to break the blockade that Ethiopia’s government has imposed on Tigray.
The conflict threatens to destabilise Africa’s second most populous country, where thousands of people have already been killed in the nine-month war.
Ethiopia declared a ceasefire in late June as its military retreated from Tigray and the resurgent Tigray forces retook key towns and walked into the regional capital, Mekele, to cheers. The conflict erupted in Tigray in November after a falling-out between prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, and the Tigray ruling party that had dominated Ethiopia’s government for nearly three decades.
Sedertdien, thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands of people face famine conditions. The United Nations and United States has sent high-level officials to Ethiopia to urge more access for aid.
Any new offensive by the Amhara regional forces would go against the federal government’s command and terms of the ceasefire.
While the United Nations and United States raise the alarm about the Ethiopian government’s continuing near-complete blockade of the Tigray region and its 6 million people, the Tigray forces have vowed to secure the region and pursue its “enemies”.
They have said the prime minister needs to go as one of several preconditions for talks.
Egter, Getachew said civilians in Amhara should have nothing to fear from Tigray’s forces.
“We have to deal with anyone who’s still shooting,” Getachew said. “If it takes marching to Addis to silence the guns, we will. But I hope we’ll not have to.”
“We’re not after Amhara territory or the people of Amhara. … As long as they are not shooting at our people, we have no problem,” Getachew said.
Associated Press and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.