In Brief

Why Ethiopia may be heading for civil war

Military seizes airport and shuts off internet in northern Tigray region as rebels reject PM Abiy Ahmed

Ethiopia appears to be on the verge of civil war following a wave of increasingly deadly armed skirmishes between the national government and local authorities controlling the northern Tigray region.

The African nation’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed last week sent troops and air force jets into Tigray, in what France 24 describes as a “campaign against the regional ruling party”, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The TPLF “was the dominant political party in Ethiopia for decades” but has been “feuding with Ahmed’s government since shortly after he came to power in 2018”, says the BBC. Following the party’s withdrawal from the ruling coalition last year, the feud “became more intense” in September, when Tigray held its own elections despite government orders to delay national polls owing to the coronavirus pandemic, adds Al Jazzera.

The TPLF claimed that the PM had overstayed his mandate by delaying the election and was no longer the legitimate leader of the country.

After low-level fighting broke out last week, Ahmed’s administration moved to replace the regional government, with state media announcing today that the military had captured Tigray’s Humera Airport and cut off telephone and internet access across the region.

Despite the offensive, Ahmed - the recipient of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize - insists that he is not ignoring calls to de-escalate the situation, claiming that his military is simply undertaking a “law enforcement operation”.

“Criminal elements cannot escape the rule of law under the guise of seeking reconciliation and a call for dialogue,” Ahmed tweeted over the weekend. “Our operation aims to end the impunity that has prevailed for far too long and hold accountable individuals and groups under the laws of the land.”

But Ahmed’s attempts to reassure the international community have fallen flat, amid reports that hundreds of people have been killed in the fighting and that thousands more are fleeing northwest into Sudan.

As the conflict continues to escalate, analysts fear that Africa’s second-most populous nation is now on the brink of what “could be a long and bloody civil war”, says The Guardian.

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