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Ethiopian government launches ‘staggering’ new offensive against rebel Tigray forces, group says

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 10/11/2021 Rachel Chason
A tank damaged during the fighting between Ethiopia's National Defense Force and Tigrayan forces stands on the outskirts of Humera town in Ethiopia July 1, 2021. © Stringer ./Reuters A tank damaged during the fighting between Ethiopia's National Defense Force and Tigrayan forces stands on the outskirts of Humera town in Ethiopia July 1, 2021.

The Ethiopian government has launched a “staggering” ground offensive against rebel Tigrayan forces, according to a spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, reigniting a devastating civil war that international humanitarian groups say imperils hundreds of thousands.

TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said in an interview that there was active fighting Monday on at least three fronts in the Amhara region against the troops of the Ethiopian army and Amhara regional militias, involving a combination of soldiers, drones, tanks and airstrikes.

The fighting marked an escalation in Ethiopia’s nearly year-long civil war as the international community has ratcheted up calls for an end to the violence. Months earlier, the Tigrayan rebels had pushed the government forces out of their province and taken up positions in the neighboring Amhara region.

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Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, did not directly respond to questions about the offensive but said the government “has a responsibility to protect its citizens in all parts of the country from any acts of terrorism.”

“The government of Ethiopia will continue to counter the TPLF’s destruction, violence and killings in the Amhara region and elsewhere,” she said.

She said the offensive is intended to push the TPLF out of the Amhara region, parts of which the rebels entered this summer, and said the government’s goal is to protect residents in those areas.

The conflict in Tigray, which is in Ethiopia’s north, began in November when Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, launched a military offensive against the TPLF, a regional political party that had ruled Ethiopia for three decades before the current government came to power in 2018.

In a statement, the TPLF characterized the new fighting as “Abiy’s final offensive to reinvade Tigray,” which the TPLF has largely controlled since June.

“Despite repeated appeals by the international community as well as the Government of Tigray to find a peaceful resolution of the current crisis, the Government of Ethiopia has once again chosen to continue its genocidal war on Tigray,” the TPLF said in the statement.

Since November, the war has displaced roughly 2 million people and led the United Nations to warn that at least 400,000 people are at risk of famine caused by a “de facto humanitarian blockade.”

William Davison, a senior Ethiopia analyst for the International Crisis Group, said there was “sadly nothing particularly surprising” about the offensive’s launch, noting that international condemnations have had little impact on moves made by the Ethiopian government.

“We have seen intensive mobilization and defiant rhetoric from both sides,” he said, adding that the offensive was timed after the rainy season ended in September. “It was all gearing up toward renewed fighting.”

Abiy’s government has denied reports that it is preventing food from reaching the embattled region and earlier this month expelled seven senior U.N. officials whom the government accused of “meddling” in its affairs. At his swearing-in ceremony last week for a second five-year term, Abiy described the forces from Tigray as “hateful” toward the nation and accused some in the international community of betraying the Ethiopian government.

The expulsion of the U.N. officials drew sharp condemnation from the world body and the Biden administration, which has said it is prepared to impose financial sanctions on those “prolonging the conflict in northern Ethiopia.”

Getachew said the offensive was not altogether surprising, because of a recent escalation of force by the government, including airstrikes that began late last week on TPLF forces in the Amhara region.

He said in a tweet that there was fighting in the Amhara-region towns of Wegeltena, Geregera, Wurgessa and Haro.

“The current campaign is quite enormous,” Getachew said. “But we will definitely stand our ground and more.”

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