Tigray: thousands flee in neighbouring region as conflict spreads

Attacks by Tigrayan forces in the Afar region of Ethiopia have forced more than 54,000 people from their homes, an official has said, as the eight-month conflict appeared to be spreading.

Tigrayan fighters seized control of three Afar districts this week, according to Ahmed Koloyta, a spokesperson for the region.

Afar is strategically importance because the main road and railway linking Addis Ababa, the capital of landlocked Ethiopia, to the sea port of Djibouti run through it.

Ahmed quoted some of the people displaced as saying Tigrayan fighters had burned homes, looted properties and killed civilians. He provided no evidence and Reuters was unable to verify his claims independently.

Getachew Reda, spokesman for the Tigrayan forces, did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the accusations.

The leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Debretsion Gebremichael, said on Thursday that Tigrayan forces were in Afar and that they planned to target forces from the neighbouring Amhara region, which has been fighting on behalf of the government.

He was not immediately reachable for comment on Ahmed’s claims.

War erupted in November between the TPLF, Tigray’s ruling party, and the Ethiopian military. The government declared victory three weeks later when it captured the regional capital of Mekelle, but the TPLF kept fighting.

It seized back control of Mekelle and most of Tigray at the end of June after the government withdrew soldiers, and Ethiopia’s nine other regions have since announced they would send forces to support the military against Tigrayan fighters.

The conflict has sparked international criticism of the country’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, and concern for the stability of Africa’s second most populous nation.

Getachew said on Tuesday that Tigrayan forces would do “whatever it takes” to get the government to accept their conditions for ceasefire negotiations.

Those include the full withdrawal of government troops and their allies from Tigray’s pre-war borders and the restoration of services such as electricity, telecommunications, transport links and banking.

Gunmen attacked a World Food Programme convoy on Sunday, halting the movement of food aid into Tigray.

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