November 05, 2020

Ethiopia Crisis Update: Federal and Tigray regional forces continue fighting in northern Ethiopia

Contributor: Hannah Kuperman

[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk (*) for the reader's awareness.]

Ethiopian federal and regional forces continue to fight in northern Ethiopia. Ethiopian Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy deployed federal troops to the Tigray regional state in the country’s north on November 4 after accusing the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of attacking a federal military base in the regional capital Mekele. The TPLF was part of Ethiopia’s minoritarian ruling coalition until Abiy’s appointment in 2018. Tensions between the TPLF and Abiy’s administration escalated in September 2020 after Tigray officials held regional elections, defying Abiy’s order to postpone all elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The president of Tigray regional state claimed that TPLF forces seized the federal base in Mekele and “almost all” of the base’s weaponry, but this claim is likely exaggerated and Abiy’s government has *challenged it.

Fighting between federal forces and the TPLF has subsided in Mekele but continued in the region’s west on November 5. Skirmishes between the two sides occurred along the Tigray-Amhara regional border. A clinic in the border area reported treating roughly two dozen soldiers that day but did not reveal their affiliation. The clinic did not report treating any civilians.

TPLF leadership claimed on November 5 that federal troops stationed along the Ethiopian-Eritrean border crossed into Eritrea. This movement is not confirmed, but the claim underscores the potential for escalation between the TPLF and Eritrea given their longstanding animosity. TPLF leadership has accused Abiy’s government of coordinating with Eritrea in the current conflict.

Abiy is resisting international calls for peace between his administration and Tigray. Abiy’s administration is keeping tight control of the region’s information space by *shutting down the region’s internet and electricity. Abiy’s government may even be cracking down on members of the Tigray ethnic group. Such accusations should be taken seriously, but confirmation should be sought because the likelihood of disinformation campaigns is high on both sides of the conflict.

Read Emily Estelle’s “Civil war is breaking out in Africa’s second largest country” for more on the risks Ethiopia’s destabilization poses to East Africa.

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