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Tigray War

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Tigray War
Part of the conflicts in the Horn of Africa
Tigray in Ethiopia.svg
Location of Tigray Region in Ethiopia
(For a more detailed map of the situation, see here.)
Date4 November 2020 – ongoing
(2 months and 2 weeks)
Location
Status

Ongoing

  • ENDF captures Mekelle,[4] Ethiopian government claims victory and declares main phase over.[5]
  • The TPLF vows to continue fighting and claims to have recaptured Aksum.[6][7]
Belligerents
 Ethiopia

 Eritrea[1]
 United Arab Emirates (alleged; TPLF claim)[a][2]

Tigray Region Tigray Regional Government

Commanders and leaders
Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed
(Prime Minister of Ethiopia)
Ethiopia Birhanu Jula
(ENDF Chief of Staff)
Ethiopia Kenea Yadeta
(Minister of Defense)
Amhara Region Tiruneh Temesgen
(Chief Administrator of Amhara Region, early November 2020)
Amhara Region Agegnehu Teshager
(Chief Administrator of Amhara Region, as of late November 2020)
Eritrea Isaias Afewerki
(President of Eritrea)
Eritrea Filipos Woldeyohannes
(Chief of the Defence Staff)
Eritrea Sebhat Ephrem
(General of Eritrean Defense Forces)
Tigray Region Debretsion Gebremichael
(President of Tigray Region, Chairman of TPLF)
Units involved
Ethiopia Ethiopian National Defense Force

Ethiopia Ethiopian Federal Police

  • Amhara Region Amhara Region Special Force

Amhara Region Amhara Region Police Force

  • Afar Region Afar Region Special Forces

Afar Region Afar Region Police Force

Eritrea Eritrean Defence Forces
  • Tigray Region Tigray Region Special Force
  • Tigray Region Tigray Region Police Force
  • Tigray Region Tigray Region Militias[9][10][11][12]
Strength
Ethiopia 400,000[13] Tigray Region 250,000 (upper estimate) [13][14]
Casualties and losses
EthiopiaEritrea At least 10,224 (TPLF claim)[15][16][17]
At least 5,000 (other sources)[18]
Ethiopia 1 MiG-23 aircraft[19]
Tigray Region 550 killed (government claim; 4–11 November 2020)[20]
At least 4,382 civilians killed[b]
massacres: Adigrat, Hagere Selam, Hitsats, Humera, Mai Kadra, Maryam Ts'iyon[37]
3 UN guards and 5 aid workers killed[38]
~2,200,000 displaced (Tigray Transitional Government claim)[39][40]

The Tigray War is an ongoing armed conflict that began in November 2020 in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia, between two sides: the Tigray Regional Government, led by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF); and forces supporting Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, including president Isaias Afwerki's Eritrean Forces.[7][41][42]

To distance the country's politics from ethnic federalism, Abiy merged the ethnic and region-based parties of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, which had governed Ethiopia for 30 years, into the new Prosperity Party. The TPLF, a politically powerful entity that had dominated Ethiopian politics during those 30 years, refused to join the new party, and alleged that Abiy Ahmed became an illegitimate ruler by rescheduling the general elections set for 29 August 2020 (which Abiy postponed twice before from the regular May 2020 election date, before COVID-19)[43] to an undetermined date in 2021 due to COVID-19.[44]

The TPLF, led by Chairman Debretsion Gebremichael, went ahead with regional elections in Tigray in September 2020 in defiance of the federal government, which declared the Tigray election illegal. Several journalists were barred by the federal government (at Addis Ababa airport) from traveling to cover Tigray's regional election.[45][46][47]

Fighting between the TPLF and the Federal Government began with the 4 November attacks on the Northern Command bases and headquarters of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) in Tigray Region by TPLF aligned security forces and with attacks by the ENDF in the Tigray Region on the same day, that federal authorities described as a police action.[48][49][50] The federal forces captured the Tigrayan capital Mekelle on 28 November, after which Prime Minister Abiy declared the Tigray operation 'over'.[4][5] The TPLF stated in late November that it would continue fighting, until the 'invaders' are out.[7][51][52] Mass extrajudicial killings of civilians took place during November and December 2020 in and around Adigrat[53] and Hagere Selam,[53] in the Hitsats refugee camp,[54] and in Humera,[55] Mai Kadra[56][57] and the Maryam Ts'iyon church.[58]

Background

Historical/political

Ethiopian Prime Minister Lt. Col. Abiy Ahmed

Following the end of the Ethiopian Civil War in 1991, Ethiopia became a dominant-party state under the rule of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of ethnically-based parties. The founding and most influential member was the TPLF and the chairperson was Meles Zenawi, who was the Prime Minister of Ethiopia until his death in 2012.[59][60]

The TPLF used to be part of the Ethiopian governing coalition until its 2019 refusal to merge into the Prosperity Party.[61] In 2020, tensions between the government and the TPLF escalated in the months before the November Tigray military intervention.[61] Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is of Oromo descent, accused the TPLF Party Members in the Tigray Regional Government of undermining his authority.[61] By contrast, the Tigray authorities saw the refusal to recognise the September 2020 election for the Tigray parliament (which, along with all elections in Ethiopia, had been delayed by the federal elections board because of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ethiopia) as the reason for the outbreak of the conflict.[61] Abiy Ahmed's government considered the September Tigray election to be illegal.[62] The warming of relations between Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, who is poorly regarded in Tigray, was also considered to have fuelled the tension.[61] In late October, the Ethiopian Reconciliation Commission stated that it was trying to mediate between the federal and Tigrayan governments, but that pre-conditions set by both sides were blocking progress.[63]

As tension continued to grow, a general appointed by Abiy was prevented by the Tigrayan government from taking on his military post.[64] The day prior to the TPLF's 4 November Northern Command attacks, the federal parliament of Ethiopia had suggested designating the TPLF as a terrorist organization.[61]

Constitutional context

The 1995 Constitution of Ethiopia states in Article 39.1, "Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession."[65]

Article 62.9 grants HoF the right to "order Federal intervention if any State [government], in violation of [the] Constitution, endangers the constitutional order."[65]

In late September 2020, the TPLF stated that the constitutional term limit of the HoF, the House of Peoples' Representatives (HoPR), the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers was 5 October 2020, and that for this reason, it would consider "the incumbent" constitutionally illegitimate after 5 October. TPLF proposed replacing the government by a technocratic caretaker government as detailed in a plan posted on Facebook by the Coalition of Ethiopian Federalist Forces.[66]

Course of the conflict

On 4 November 2020, TPLF and Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) soldiers came into conflict during the TPLF attacks on the ENDF Northern Command headquarters in Mekelle, the Fifth Battalion barracks in Dansha, and other Northern Command bases.[67][49][68] Several people were killed and the TPLF claimed the attack was carried out in "self-defense."[69]

In retaliation, an Ethiopian offensive was launched which was accompanied by a declaration of a state of emergency and a shutdown of government services in the region.[70][71] During the subsequent days, skirmishes continued and the Ethiopian parliament declared the creation of an interim government for Tigray.[72] Ethiopian offensives in the north were accompanied with airstrikes and several towns and cities were retaken.[73]

On the night from 9 to 10 November, 600 civilians, mostly Amharans and Welkait, were killed in a massacre in the town of Mai Kadra with machetes and knives used by local militias and police loyal to the TPLF, according to preliminary investigations by Amnesty International and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.[74][75] Two days later, refugees interviewed by the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and The New York Times stated that Amhara militias, including Fano,[76][77] and the ENDF[55] carried out beatings and a massacre of 20 Tigrayans in Humera. Humera was shelled from the direction of the Eritrean–Ethiopian border for two days around 9–11 November. The ENDF gained control of Humera on 12 November.[78]

On 14 November 2020, Tigrayan forces launched rockets at the Eritrean capital of Asmara, but the missiles missed.[79] In addition Tigrayan forces fired a rocket towards Bahir Dar and Gondar cities in the Amhara region in the late hours of Nov. 13, 2020.[80]

On 15 December (EEPA) or 17–20 December (Jan Nyssen), 750 people hiding in the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion (Maryam Ts'iyon Church) in Aksum were taken out and shot dead in the square in front of the church.[58][53]

By 18 November, Abiy claimed that Ethiopia Defense Force had captured the cities of Shire and Axum with battles continuing around Mekelle; Ethiopian forces further claimed to have taken some land south of the city.[81][82][83] On 23 November, the government issued an ultimatum giving the rebels 72 hours to surrender.[84] On 26 November, after the ultimatum ended, Abiy ordered federal military forces to launch an attack on Mekelle.[85][86] On 28 November, the Ethiopian government announced that it had taken control of the city, bringing "the last phase of its law enforcement operation" to an end. The TPLF said they would continue fighting.[5][87] TPLF Chairman, Debretsion Gebremichael, confirmed the TPLF was withdrawing from Mekelle. On 2 December the United Nations was promised humanitarian access to the territory held by ENDF in the Tigray Region.[88] The first UN convoy reached Mekelle on 12 December.[89] On 16 December the EU delayed financial aid to Ethiopia citing the governments restrictions against UN humanitarian aid as the reason.[90]

Spillover into Sudan

Thousands of people were believed to have been killed in the conflict and around 44,000 have fled to Sudan.[4] On 29 November, claims that South Sudan was harboring Debretsion, led to the Ethiopian ambassador to South Sudan abruptly returning to Ethiopia, and South Sudanese diplomats in Ethiopia allegedly being given 72 hours to leave the country.[91]

On 15 December, 4 Sudanese soldiers were killed, and 27 others were injured near the border with Ethiopia, in what Sudan claims to be an ambush by Ethiopian forces and militias. A soldier later claimed that Ethiopian forces had launched artillery attacks on them and intruded into the Jebel al-Teyyour area, located 7 kilometres inside Sudan. Other soldiers claim that the attackers were Amhara militias. Ethiopia claimed the clashes were Ethiopia trying to stop a Sudanese militia which had tried to cross into Ethiopian territory and seize farmlands.[13][92]

In response to the killings, Sudan started to build-up its military along the border with Ethiopia. Military sources claimed that Sudan had recaptured Jebel Abutiour. Then on 19 December Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces were reported to have taken areas previously taken by Ethiopia and Amhara militias in Al Qadarif.[93][94][95] On the same day, 150 civilians were reported to have been killed by Eritrean forces in Edaga Hamus.[96]

Humanitarian crises

According to the United Nations (UN), some 2.3 million children are cut off from desperately needed aid and humanitarian assistance. The Ethiopian federal government has strictly controlled access to the Tigray region (since the start of the conflict), and the UN said it is frustrated that talks with the Ethiopian government have not yet secured adequate humanitarian access. These include, "food, including ready-to-use therapeutic food for the treatment of child malnutrition, medicines, water, fuel and other essentials that are running low" said UNICEF.[97][98][99][100][101]

Possible COVID-19 outbreaks are feared as refugees fleeing the Tigray conflict are sheltering in crowded camps.[102]

As of December 2020, the UN estimates more than one million people have been internally displaced by the fighting.[103] More than 50,000 people have fled to Sudan due to the conflict.[104][105] Communications and travel links remained severed with the Tigray region since the deadly conflict broke out on 4 November, and Human Rights Watch warned that "actions that deliberately impede relief supplies" would violate international humanitarian law.[103]

Food ran out for the nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray.[103]

The fighting has killed thousands, according to International Crisis Group.[106] The U.N. has in November 2020 reported that people in Tigray are fleeing their capital city. Abiy's government had warned them of "no mercy" if residents didn't move away from the TPLF leaders, whom they accused of hiding among the population.[103][107]

Role of online social networks

Claire Wilmot, writing in The Washington Post, speculated that Internet restrictions imposed by the Abiy government during the Tigray conflict might be motivated by a wish to deescalate the conflict. She argued that much of the Twitter activity that she analysed was authentic English-language communication by members of the Ethiopian diaspora, with the hashtag #StopTheWarOnTigray, and aiming to complement the "one-sided and highly dangerous image" that dominated views on the conflict.[108] Wilmot saw the Tigray conflict-related Ethiopian online activity as mostly distinct from Ethiopian online hate speech, which in 2019 was mostly in Amharic on Facebook, but also suggested that the lines between authentic online political activity and deliberate misinformation[109] were becoming blurred. Wilmot suggested that the "information vacuum" in the conflict reduced the "ability to verify information".[108]

Ethnic profiling of Tigrayans

Ethnic profiling against Tigrayans occurred during the Tigray War, with Ethiopians of Tigrayan ethnicity being put on indefinite leave from Ethiopian Airlines or refused permission to board,[110] prevented from overseas travel,[105] and an "order of identifying ethnic Tigrayans from all government agencies and NGOs" being used by federal police to request a list of ethnic Tigrayans from an office of the World Food Programme.[111] Tigrayans' houses were arbitrarily searched and Tigrayan bank accounts were suspended.[105] Ethnic Tigrayan members of Ethiopian components of United Nations peacekeeping missions were disarmed and some forcibly flown back to Ethiopia, at the risk of torture or execution, according to United Nations officials.[112][113]

Reactions

National

  • The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) condemned the "decision of President Mustafe to portray Somalis in Ethiopia as supporters of the war against Tigray".[114]
  • On November 12, 2020, the TPLF chairman Debretsion Gebremichael denied allegations that the TPLF had surrendered, stating that "we are still holding. These people cannot defeat us. We cannot be beaten."[115]
  • On November 27, Ethiopian Attorney General, Gedion Timothewos, pressed by the BBC's Stephen Sackur to clarify if his country was now "sinking into civil war", responded: "If the Prime Minister were to let the TPLF go on with the kind of things they have been doing, if he had let them acquire the heavy weaponry they wanted to acquire by attacking the Northern Command, yes, we would have descended into that kind of situation; but by taking the measures we are taking right now, we will be able to avert that possibility."[116]
  • When Ethiopian Prime minister Lt. Col. Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018, he made significant reforms to the country's judicial system, economy and foreign policy. According to an article by Hailemariam Desalegn, the former prime minister of Ethiopia, TPLF officials were concerned these moves were going to threaten their political and economic position in the country.[44] Thus TPLF officials started defying the orders from the federal government and made overt and covert actions to undermine and delegitimize the Ethiopian parliament, defense forces and the federal government.

International

  • Canada Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne called on all parties to show restraint. Champagne also called for a peaceful solution and protection of civilians.[117]
  • Djibouti Djiboutian President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh expressed strong support for Abiy, saying that he had chosen to "restore law and order at the federal level, and punish those seeking to break up the country" and dismissed the prospect of negotiations, saying that the TPLF had "structured itself so as to bring the central government to its knees" and that talks could "only lead to the partition of Ethiopia", as they would set a precedent under which other regional groups would be able to assert their own secessionist claims.[118]
  • United States U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged de-escalation of the conflict and immediate action to restore peace, and emphasized the importance of protecting civilians.[122] U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's foreign policy adviser Antony Blinken expressed deep concern over the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia, ethnic violence and threats to peace and security in the area. He called on the TPLF to protect civilians and take steps to end the conflict.[123]
  • European Union The European Commission said it was mobilizing an initial €4 million in emergency aid, in order to assist displaced Ethiopian refugees who had fled to Sudan.[124]
  • Turkey Minister of Foreign Affairs (Turkey) Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the government of Turkey understands the decision of the federal government of Ethiopia to take action to maintain law and order in the region. "He expressed his confidence that the operation would end soon and not compromise the safety of civilians," the statement said.[125][126][127][128]

Intergovernmental organizations

  • United Nations The United Nations (UN) warned of the emergence of a major humanitarian crisis, if a full-scale conflict arose.[129]
  • African UnionThe African Union (AU) appealed for cessation of hostilities and protection of civilians.[130]

Humanitarian Organizations

  • Worldwide, humanitarian organisations and the scientific community asked for a rapid ceasefire and delivery of humanitarian aid to the people of Tigray.[131][132]

Protests by diaspora abroad

Outside Ethiopia, people of Tigrayan diaspora, as well as those of Eritrean descent, took to the streets to protest against the conflict. These protests included:

2020

  • On 28 December in Denver, Colorado (USA)[139]

2021

See also

Notes

References

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External links

Casualty recording websites: