Several rockets, fired from Ethiopia’s dissident Tigray region, hit the capital of border Eritrea, Asmara, a major escalation that heightens fears that the conflict between Addis Ababa and the Tigray authorities is escalating.
Two Addis Ababa-based diplomats who requested anonymity told AFP that several rockets fell near Asmara airport on Saturday. Paris-based Eritrean opposition radio Erena, citing residents of Asmara, reports that four “missiles” hit the capital of Eritrea.
No leader of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), the party that has ruled the region and has challenged the authority of the Ethiopian federal government for several months, was immediately reachable.
The Tigray Forces Command claimed earlier on Saturday to have fired “missiles” on Friday evening at the airports of Bahir Dar and Gondar, two localities in the Ethiopian region neighboring Amhara, from where, according to it, Ethiopian planes took off which bombard the region.
He again accused Eritrea of lending a hand to the Ethiopian federal army by letting its air force take off from Eritrean territory, but also by intervening militarily in the fighting in Tigray at the request of Addis Ababa.
He had threatened to fire missiles in “retaliation” against Asmara and Massaoua, an Eritrean port on the Red Sea.
“Whether the attacks start from Asmara or Bahir Dar (…) there will be reprisals, we will fire missiles at selected targets, in addition to airports”, warned the spokesperson for the Central Command of the Tigray, Getachew Reda, speaking on local television Demtsi Woyane TV.
“We will also fire missiles to thwart any military movement in Asmara and Massaoua” he also threatened.
This is not the first time that the leaders of Tigray have accused Eritrea of being involved in the ongoing conflict. But the blackout imposed on the region and travel restrictions for journalists make it impossible to verify the claims of both sides.
On Friday, the Ethiopian government assured that the TPLF forces were “in agony”, while the latter claimed on Saturday that they had inflicted “heavy losses” on the Ethiopian federal army.
Eritrea is the sworn enemy of the TPLF, a party that represents the Tigrayan minority and has controlled the political and security apparatus in Ethiopia for almost 30 years.
The shooting at Asmara constitutes a major escalation in the conflict in Tigray. And many observers fear that it will drag Ethiopia – Africa’s second most populous country with 100 million inhabitants and a patchwork of peoples – into an uncontrollable communal war, but also destabilize the entire Horn of Africa region. Africa, Eritrea may in particular be tempted to settle old scores with the TPLF.
Ethiopia and Eritrea clashed in a deadly war between 1998 and 2000, when the TPLF was all-powerful in Addis Ababa. The two countries remained at loggerheads until Abiy Ahmed became prime minister in 2018 and made peace with Asmara, which won him the Nobel Prize in 2019.
Having become Prime Minister thanks to a strong popular protest movement born in the Oromo and Amhara regions, the two main ethnic groups of the country, Mr. Abiy gradually removed the TPLF from power and tensions between them have continued to grow .
Until the military intervention he launched on November 4 in Tigray, he said, to re-establish “legitimate institutions” there.
With these “missile” attacks as far as the Amhara region and Eritrea, the TPLF has shown its capacity to carry the conflict far from its stronghold. This, while General Berhanu Jula, Chief of Staff of the Federal Army, assured on November 5 that “the war would not reach the center of the country” and “would end” in Tigray.
Even if the TPLF assures that “the conflict does not concern Amhara civilians”, old territorial disputes between the Amharas and the Tigrayans (6% of the country’s population).
Tensions are recurrent between the two communities which have clashed violently in the past.
Thousands of Amhara militiamen have already joined Tigray to lend a hand to the Ethiopian federal army against the TPLF, according to Amhara regional authorities.
On Thursday, Amnesty International denounced a “massacre” of civilians in Tigray, citing witnesses who said the victims were Amhara and were killed by TPLF forces, which Tigray President Debretsion Gebremichael denied.
15/11/2020 01:48:42 – Addis Ababa (AFP) – © 2020 AFP