Ethiopia’s war in the northern region of Tigray looked set to intensify on Wednesday as the prime minister signaled the end of a government ceasefire and the neighbouring Amhara region said it would go on the offensive against Tigrayan forces.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has recaptured most of its home region in the past three weeks after an abrupt reversal in an eight-month war, has vowed to retake western Tigray, an expanse of fertile territory controlled by Amhara forces who seized it during the conflict.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed abruptly pulled central government troops out of most of Tigray last month, citing a unilateral ceasefire that the TPLF mocked as “a joke” designed to justify his forces’ retreat. Wednesday’s statement marked a shift in rhetoric, as Abiy said the ceasefire had failed to deliver.
A spokesman for the Amhara regional government also said the authorities there were rallying their own forces for a counter-attack against Tigrayan forces.
“The regional government has now transitioned from defensive to offensive,” Amhara spokesperson Gizachew Muluneh was quoted as saying by the region’s state-run Amhara Media Corporation. “Amhara militia and Special Forces have been systematically trying to defend but now our patience has run out and as of today we have opened an offensive attack.”
He did not respond to requests for further comment. On Tuesday the National Movement of Amhara, a major regional political party, called on irregular volunteer militia – known as Fano – to mobilise.
Western Tigray has long been home to large populations of both Tigrayans and Amhara, and renewed fighting between two of Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic groups over the territory could drive another wave of refugees from a conflict that has already forced 2 million from their homes.
When Abiy sent troops to fight the TPLF last year, Amhara militia fought on the central government’s side, using the opportunity to take control of a swathe of territory administered by Tigrayans for decades.
Since Abiy’s abrupt withdrawal on June 28, the TPLF has pushed steadily outwards, recapturing most of Tigray. Its forces retook Alamata, the main town in the south, on Monday and pushed across the deep ravine of the Tekeze River to take Mai Tsebri from Amhara control on Tuesday. -Reuters