Ethiopia resists mediation, bombs Tigray

Giulia Paravicini and David Lewis
·2-min read

Ethiopia has resisted international pressure for mediation in a war in the country's north, with its air force bombing the Tigrayan capital Mekelle.

Hundreds have died, 25,000 refugees have fled to Sudan and there have been reports of atrocities since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered air strikes and a ground offensive on November 4 against Tigray's local rulers for defying his authority.

But Africa's youngest leader, who won a Nobel Peace Prize last year, has so far resisted pressure for talks to end a conflict that has spilled into neighbouring Eritrea and threatened to destabilise the wider Horn of Africa.

"We are saying 'Give us time'. It's not going to take until eternity ... it will be a short-lived operation," Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the government's Tigray crisis task force, told reporters on Monday.

"We have never asked Uganda or any other country to mediate," Redwan added, after Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni met Ethiopia's foreign minister and appealed for negotiations.

Ethiopia's air force dropped bombs in and around Mekelle on Monday, diplomatic and military sources said.

They had no word on casualties or damage and there was no immediate information from the Ethiopian government.

Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of the Tigray People's Liberation Front, said at least two civilians had been killed and a number wounded.

He said while Mekelle had been bombed, Alamata in southern Tigray had been hit by a drone attack.

Ethiopia's task force said earlier federal troops had "liberated" Alamata from the TPLF.

The Tigray flare-up could jeopardise the recent opening up of Ethiopia's economy, stir ethnic bloodshed elsewhere around Africa's second most populous nation, and tarnish the reputation of Abiy, 44, who won his Nobel for pursuing peace with Eritrea.

The TPLF, which governs the region of 5 million people, has accused Eritrea of sending tanks and soldiers over the border against it.

Eritrea denies that.

Tigray forces fired rockets into Eritrea at the weekend.

There was no immediate comment from Tigray's leaders about Alamata, about 120 km from Mekelle.

Debretsion urged the United Nations and African Union to condemn Ethiopia's federal troops, accusing them of using high-tech weaponry including drones in attacks he said destroyed a dam and a sugar factory.

"Abiy Ahmed is waging this war on the people of Tigray and is responsible for the purposeful infliction of human suffering," he said.

The government has denied targeting the dam or civilian locations but not commented on the sugar factory.

Tigray leaders accuse Abiy, from the largest Oromo ethnic group, of persecuting them and purging them from government and security forces over the last two years.

He says they rose up against him by attacking a military base.

Amnesty International has denounced the killing of scores and possibly hundreds of civilian labourers in a massacre both sides blame on each other.