Dhe United Nations, the EU and aid agencies have warned of an escalation of the conflict in Ethiopia. “There is a risk that this situation will get totally out of hand,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on Friday. Against the background of a military offensive by the central government against the militias of the government of the Tigray region, the EU commissioner for crisis management, Janez Lenarčič, told the editorial network Germany (RND) that this crisis could have “catastrophic humanitarian consequences for the whole country”. “The military escalation in Ethiopia threatens the stability of the entire country and the region.”
After months of tension between Addis Ababa and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the Ethiopian government recently launched an offensive against the armed group and the ruling party of Tigray. Little is known about the local situation as the internet, telephone connections and electricity are cut and roads are blocked. Access to the region has been restricted for journalists, and government information on what is happening can hardly be independently verified. Nevertheless, according to Bachelet, there are reports of increasing air strikes by government forces and heavy fighting on the ground.
Hundreds of civilians killed
The human rights organization Amnesty International spoke on Thursday of reports of a massacre in Mai-Kadra, Tigray, in which hundreds of people were likely to be killed. If these civilians were found to have been deliberately killed by one of the conflicting parties, the killings would constitute war crimes, Bachelet said.
Following a decision by the Ethiopian parliament to set up a regional transitional government in Tigray, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced a new leadership on Friday. The new chairman of the provisional government of Tigray, Mulu Nega, will appoint leaders from the parties that are “legally active in the region” for the executive bodies in Tigray, he wrote on Twitter.
International warnings of a humanitarian catastrophe were issued. Even before the conflict, around three million people in Tigray and 15 million people across the country were dependent on humanitarian aid, Lenarčič said. Matthias Späth, country director of Welthungerhilfe in Ethiopia, said: “Tigray is cut off from all supply routes.” Lenarčič called on the Ethiopian government to grant aid organizations access to the region.
Warnings about wave of refugees
In a joint communication, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and Lenarčič declared that immediate de-escalation was necessary. The Ethiopia expert of the Science and Politics Foundation in Berlin, Annette Weber, told the RND: “If the conflict spreads regionally, it would lead to large waves of migration to Europe as well.” In addition, the Soufan Center think tank warned against a large wave of refugees in the Sudan could severely destabilize the country that is currently undergoing political change.
The TPLF was the dominant party in the party coalition that ruled Ethiopia with a hard hand for more than 25 years. But when Abiy came to power in 2018, he removed many functionaries of the old guard in the course of several reforms and founded a new party without the TPLF. The TPLF and many people in Tigray do not feel represented by the central government and would like greater autonomy. Under Abiy – who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 – the ethnic conflicts in the multiethnic state of Ethiopia with its around 112 million inhabitants have increased.