NOVEMBER 24, 2020  NEWS

Source: US Embassy Asmara. Dated 23 November 2020

Location: Asmara, Eritrea

Event: The Embassy received reports today that neighborhood wardens in some areas of Asmara, at the instruction of Eritrean government officials, have advised residents to remain indoors this evening.  All U.S. Citizens in Asmara are advised to continue to exercise caution, remain in their homes, and conduct only essential travel until further notice.

Actions to Take:

  • Monitor local news.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times.

Stop War Crimes in Ethiopia Today

Monday, 23 November 2020 23:31 Written by

NOVEMBER 23, 2020  ETHIOPIANEWS

Source: African Arguments

By Alex de Waal

On 10 December 2019, the same day that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed received the Nobel Peace Prize, the 1991 winner of the prize, Aung San Suu Kyi was in court in the Hague, defending her government against accusations of genocide.

Abiy Ahmed is racing down that same road.

Over the weekend, the spokesman for the Ethiopian army, Colonel Dejene Tsegaye said that the army planned to encircle the Tigrayan capital Mekelle with tanks and begin shelling the city:

“We want to send a message to the public in Mekelle to save yourselves from any artillery attacks and free yourselves from the junta … After that, there will be no mercy.”

That would be a war crime. Abiy gave a 72-hour ultimatum to the residents of the city. Using artillery against a city (a civilian target) is a gross violation of international humanitarian law.

There is good reason to suppose that the leadership of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) may have committed war crimes too. In fact the casus belli for the offensive by the Ethiopian army is an alleged mass killing of Ethiopian army officers on 3-4 November as TPLF units overran army bases. In response, Abiy launched ground and air attacks.

The TPLF’s reported action was also reckless. Its military leaders may have believed too much in the myth of their own invincibility in the face of an all-out attack.

As the war has proceeded, government aircraft have bombed Mekelle town, including the university. The TPLF has fired rockets at cities outside Tigray. Amnesty International has reported large-scale killings of civilians by Tigrayan militia, and refugees entering Sudan speak of killings by Amhara militia. Violations by one side don’t excuse violations by the other. In a war the two sides are bound by the same standards.

Abiy has refused to call it a war and has instead called it a police action with the intent of bringing criminals to justice. That may have served him well in public relations in Ethiopia and have convinced the U.S. Ambassador and Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, but it’s not how the law works.

The Federal Government is at war with the TPLF. Airstrikes, tank battles, artillery barrages against a belligerent that controls territory and exercises command and control over armed forces, constitute a war. And in war, international humanitarian law and international criminal law apply. If the federal forces commit war crimes, the court won’t accept the plea that the other side fired the first shots.

The African Union has appointed envoys to mediate between the warring parties. The world should support them in calling for an immediate ceasefire and referring the case of the Tigray war for an independent international investigation.

A moral appeal to end hostilities

Monday, 23 November 2020 23:29 Written by

NOVEMBER 23, 2020  ETHIOPIANEWS

Source: Ethiopia Insight November 22, 2020

There will be no winners in a war fueled by a failure of political leadership.

 

It is a moral outrage and a sad irony that Ethiopia is at war with itself whilst actively engaged in peace-making elsewhere in the near-abroad.To add to the irony, the public watched the intense build-up with indifference only to feel perturbed as the nation dipped into a fratricidal bloodshed of a frightening scale, unfamiliar to the present generation of enlisted men and women.

From here on, not even the wisest pundits can predict what the raging conflict has in store for this nation of nationalities, once at war against poverty, the only enemy with which no compromise is possible.

What is certain, however, is that, in the absence of compromise, this country is in for a seismic humanitarian crisis far beyond its meager shock-absorbing capacity.

In this hour of peril, the moral imperative, as it were, is to mobilize public opinion and leverage mediation, rather than bickering over which side planned and instigated the bloody conflict.

As “truth is the first casualty of war”, it is for an impartial inquiry panel to sort out the claims and counterclaims and identify the guilty party that was most responsible for the debacle.

In the meantime, it must be said with righteous indignation that both sides bear responsibility for a as much baiting on a premature foreclosure of peaceful dialogue  and escalating the conflict thereafter.

If nothing else, the haste with which each side upped the ante goes to show the moral failings of the former allies in the now defunct EPRDF coalition. But if decency still matters, the only prudent course of action is to stand down and begin peace talks without preconditions.

That said, it remains to call upon religious leaders, peace advocates, and other influential public figures to bring their combined moral weight and broker cessation of hostilities as a prelude to comprehensive peace talks.

There is no shame in extending an olive branch if the alternative is worse than the momentary flack one must take for daring the opposite side to reciprocate in kind.

Surely if both sides lack the moral courage to budge, the human toll of the tragic conflict is bound to bulge and severely diminish the prospect of a post-conflict reconciliation.

In this hour of peril, saner voices with reputed pedigree also bear responsibility to encourage dialogue and remind the war-mongers that, by its very nature, the kind of conflict Ethiopia is in rarely lends itself to a military solution.

If proof is needed, suffice to recall the case of Yugoslavia, where zealous pursuit of a unilateral settlement quickly degenerated into mindless ethnic cleansing and broke apart the republics into EU-dependent mini-states overnight.

This is not to suggest that Ethiopia is doomed to go the way of Yugoslavia, but instead to draw attention to the possibility of a no less calamity should, by some consequential mishap, the conflict spill over to other regions with a recent history of violent flare-ups.

To end on a positive note, one cannot but hope that, sooner rather than later, everyone, not least those in charge, will realize that there can be no victory to celebrate after the fratricidal slaughter—but only a vigil to hold for the dead and injured from a war waged in vain.

NOVEMBER 22, 2020  ETHIOPIANEWS

Source: Bloomberg

By , 22 November 2020, 17:25 GMT

The United Arab Emirates called on Ethiopian leaders to return to talks and end a military conflict that’s pitting the country’s central government against the dissident northern Tigray state, the UAE’s official news agency WAM reported.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed “stressed the need to return and implement the rule of law” in Ethiopia, which is “key to security and stability in the Horn of Africa and the region,” WAM reported on Sunday.

The minister said the UAE has been in contact with many of its partners in Africa and the region to help put an end to the conflict by peaceful means, according to the statement.

The hostilities in Ethiopia erupted on Nov. 4 after months of tension between the federal and regional governments and have triggered a humanitarian crisis.

Tigrayan authorities say 100,000 people have been displaced, and the United Nations has warned that an additional 1.1 million people may need aid. No official figures of the number of people who’ve been killed are available.

NOVEMBER 21, 2020  ETHIOPIANEWS

Source: Orthodox Church of North America, Europe and the Middle East

Eritrea – Orthodox Church of North America, Europe and the Middle East

We call on the war between the peoples of Ethiopia to stop

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

It is saddening to note that the war inside Ethiopia is getting worse.  War feeds on people.  The war that is currently underway in Tigray, kills people, destroys property, and harms the elderly, children and pregnant women without discrimination.  The Papacy of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo church:

  1. The leadership of the federal government, the government of the Tigray region should recognise there is nothing to be gained from war other than long lasting animosity and hatred between the people and potential destruction of the sovereignty of the country and we call on the parties, in the name of the holy Church, to resolve their differences in a calm manner around a table.
  1. The war that has been unleashed creates long lasting animosity and hatred between the people and potential destruction of the sovereignty of the country, if allowed to continue it will be dangerous to the horn of Africa at large and to Eritrea who is in the fringes of war.
  1. The war, as long as it is not waged against the sovereignty and independence of Eritrea, the government of Eritrea must refrain from involvement and warmongering and not allow our youth to shed their blood in a war across the border and interfere in the affairs of a sovereign country Ethiopia and take sides in the conflict.
  1. To the Eritrean defence forces: the blood that was shed was enough; those of you who survived previous wars should not allow yourselves to die in this war.
  1. The people of Tigray provided refuge and protection to those Eritreans who escaped and sought safety and solace from those who made them flee from their country.  We should now return the good will and support the people of Tigray and refrain from taking any other measures that could put their lives and property in harms’ way.  You should oppose any moves by Eritrea that are designed to harm the people of Tigray or others and recognise your historic role.
  1. We call on international NGOs, human rights organisations, leaders of neighbouring countries to put pressure on the leaders of both groups to stop this dangerous war and resolve their differences through peaceful means and through dialogue.
  1. We call on the international community to protect the Eritrean refugees that are based in the refugee camps in Ethiopia and ensure their safety and protect their rights.  As stated in the Holy Bible “He puts an end to wars over all the earth; by him the bow is broken, and the spear cut in two, and the carriage burned in the fire (Psalms 46:9)” we make our spiritual call on believers to fast and pray so God can end this war.

May the Lord give us his peace

Orthodox Church of Eritrea

Papacy of North America, Europe and the Middle East

NOVEMBER 21, 2020  ETHIOPIANEWS

Confidential papers warn that, despite talk of success, army faces heavy resistance and regional stability is at risk

Source: Guardian

Though officials in Addis Ababa, the capital, have repeatedly claimed that key towns have been secured, paramilitaries and militia deployed by the army are still struggling to clear and secure territory. Heavily armed regular troops have continued to advance into Tigray as they rush to reach the capital, Mekelle, the assessment says.

The UN document and more than a dozen interviews with aid workers from other international organisations give the most comprehensive overview so far of the fighting, and will deepen international concerns that the two-week-old conflict threatens to become a long and brutal battle, destabilising one of Africa’s most fragile regions.

Information has been difficult to obtain and confirm with communications cut to Tigray and journalists banned. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people have been killed so far and many more have been displaced. More than 36,000 have fled into neighbouring Sudan, and large numbers are on the move within Tigray to avoid the fighting.

Prime minister Abiy Ahmed
Pinterest
Prime minister Abiy Ahmed pledged to end the era of dominance by Tigray when he came to power. Photograph: Reuters

Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian prime minister, said early last week that the Ethiopian Defence Forces (EDF) were poised to make a “final push” to secure Mekelle and oust the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the ruling party in the region. Last Thursday, government spokesman Redwan Hussein told reporters that national forces were “moving forward and closing in on Mekelle” and that a number of towns had fallen.

“Although Tigray regional forces may have initially been backfooted by the EDF’s swift advances, the terrain in eastern Tigray is easier to defend… and if they make a stand, they have the capability to stall the EDF advance,” one analysis reads, warning that this will then “change the dimension of the conflict from one of rapid movement into one of attrition”.

Documents seen by the Observer report continuing combat in areas which Addis Ababa claims are now controlled by government forces, though their authors admit information is hard to verify.

“After the EDF have reportedly ‘taken’ key towns such as Humera, Dansha, Shiraro, Alamata and Shire, and then pushed on with their advance, fighting has continued to be reported, or has subsequently erupted again in these locations,” one reliable account said.

The documents describe well-trained and heavily armed frontline units from the Ethiopian army bypassing main towns to avoid costly urban fighting as they hurry towards Mekelle. But the militia and paramilitaries deployed in their wake are neither as well-equipped nor as disciplined and so are vulnerable to counter-attack.

One assessment predicted that if Ethiopian forces continue to advance, their supply lines and rear areas will become more vulnerable to guerilla attacks and casualties will mount.

army personnel in tank aiming a large gun
Pinterest
Undated image from the state-owned Ethiopian News Agency army personnel near the border of the Tigray and Amhara regions. Photograph: AP

The conflict in north-west Ethiopia is the culmination of months of rising tensions between the TPLF and the ruling coalition in Addis Ababa. When national elections were cancelled because of the pandemic, the TPLF held polls anyway, in a move that aggravated tensions.

Abiy, who is Africa’s youngest leader and won the Nobel peace prize last year, launched his operation after accusing the TPLF of attacking a military camp and trying to seize military hardware.

The African Union said last Friday that it would send a team of mediators to Ethiopia in a bid to resolve the dispute, but few observers see much immediate prospect for peace.

The US ambassador to Ethiopia, Michael Raynor, said recent conversations with Abiy and with Debretsion Gebremichael, the hardline TPLF leader, had convinced him there was “a strong commitment on both sides to see the military conflict through”.

In a statement this week, the TPLF said hardships are part of life in wartime and promised to give Ethiopian troops “hell”on its home turf.

The reports seen by the Observer depict a complex and dynamic conflict across much of Tigray, with major clashes in the west of the region – as Ethiopian forces sought to advance towards the strategic town of Humera – and in the south-west, along the main road to Mekelle. Heavy fighting has also been reported around the town of Alamata, six miles from the border with neighbouring Amhara province which is fiercely loyal to the central government.

Ethiopian planes have launched air strikes, and Tigrayans have fired missiles into Amhara and Eritrea, which has supported the offensive to remove the TPLF. At least one massacre has been reported: it has been blamed on retreating Tigrayan militia targeting a community seen as loyal to the central government, but there is no confirmation of this.

Why is Ethiopia facing civil war? – video explainer

Though they number only 6 million out of a total 110 million people living in Africa’s second most populous country, Tigrayans effectively ruled Ethiopia for decades. Until Abiy took power two years ago, they were the strongest force in a multi-ethnic coalition. Abiy, whose parents are from the larger Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups, freed thousands of political prisoners and pledged to end domination by one ethnic group.

“Even if the EDF are successful in their mission to take Mekelle,” the UN assessment warns, “this will not necessarily end the conflict. It is likely that a protracted asymmetric conflict and insurgency would continue. From a humanitarian perspective, the longer the conflict is drawn out, the more severe the crisis will become.

Ethiopia has long been a linchpin of US policy in the fragile east African region and so far Washington has supported Abiy.

Tibor Nagy, US assistant secretary for African affairs, told reporters last week: “This is not two sovereign states fighting. This is a faction of the government running a region that has decided to undertake hostilities against the central government, and it has not … had the effect they thought they were going to get.”

On Saturday, Abiy said on Twitter that the safety and wellbeing of the people of Tigray was of paramount importance and the federal government would do everything to “ensure stability prevails in the Tigray region and that our citizens are free from harm and want”.

Secret UN report reveals fears of long and bitter war in Ethiopia

Confidential papers warn that, despite talk of success, army faces heavy resistance and regional stability is at risk

Source: Guardian

Though officials in Addis Ababa, the capital, have repeatedly claimed that key towns have been secured, paramilitaries and militia deployed by the army are still struggling to clear and secure territory. Heavily armed regular troops have continued to advance into Tigray as they rush to reach the capital, Mekelle, the assessment says.

The UN document and more than a dozen interviews with aid workers from other international organisations give the most comprehensive overview so far of the fighting, and will deepen international concerns that the two-week-old conflict threatens to become a long and brutal battle, destabilising one of Africa’s most fragile regions.

Information has been difficult to obtain and confirm with communications cut to Tigray and journalists banned. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people have been killed so far and many more have been displaced. More than 36,000 have fled into neighbouring Sudan, and large numbers are on the move within Tigray to avoid the fighting.

Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian prime minister, said early last week that the Ethiopian Defence Forces (EDF) were poised to make a “final push” to secure Mekelle and oust the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the ruling party in the region. Last Thursday, government spokesman Redwan Hussein told reporters that national forces were “moving forward and closing in on Mekelle” and that a number of towns had fallen.

“Although Tigray regional forces may have initially been backfooted by the EDF’s swift advances, the terrain in eastern Tigray is easier to defend… and if they make a stand, they have the capability to stall the EDF advance,” one analysis reads, warning that this will then “change the dimension of the conflict from one of rapid movement into one of attrition”.

Documents seen by the Observer report continuing combat in areas which Addis Ababa claims are now controlled by government forces, though their authors admit information is hard to verify.

“After the EDF have reportedly ‘taken’ key towns such as Humera, Dansha, Shiraro, Alamata and Shire, and then pushed on with their advance, fighting has continued to be reported, or has subsequently erupted again in these locations,” one reliable account said.

The documents describe well-trained and heavily armed frontline units from the Ethiopian army bypassing main towns to avoid costly urban fighting as they hurry towards Mekelle. But the militia and paramilitaries deployed in their wake are neither as well-equipped nor as disciplined and so are vulnerable to counter-attack.

One assessment predicted that if Ethiopian forces continue to advance, their supply lines and rear areas will become more vulnerable to guerilla attacks and casualties will mount.

The conflict in north-west Ethiopia is the culmination of months of rising tensions between the TPLF and the ruling coalition in Addis Ababa. When national elections were cancelled because of the pandemic, the TPLF held polls anyway, in a move that aggravated tensions.

Abiy, who is Africa’s youngest leader and won the Nobel peace prize last year, launched his operation after accusing the TPLF of attacking a military camp and trying to seize military hardware.

The African Union said last Friday that it would send a team of mediators to Ethiopia in a bid to resolve the dispute, but few observers see much immediate prospect for peace.

The US ambassador to Ethiopia, Michael Raynor, said recent conversations with Abiy and with Debretsion Gebremichael, the hardline TPLF leader, had convinced him there was “a strong commitment on both sides to see the military conflict through”.

In a statement this week, the TPLF said hardships are part of life in wartime and promised to give Ethiopian troops “hell”on its home turf.

The reports seen by the Observer depict a complex and dynamic conflict across much of Tigray, with major clashes in the west of the region – as Ethiopian forces sought to advance towards the strategic town of Humera – and in the south-west, along the main road to Mekelle. Heavy fighting has also been reported around the town of Alamata, six miles from the border with neighbouring Amhara province which is fiercely loyal to the central government.

Ethiopian planes have launched air strikes, and Tigrayans have fired missiles into Amhara and Eritrea, which has supported the offensive to remove the TPLF. At least one massacre has been reported: it has been blamed on retreating Tigrayan militia targeting a community seen as loyal to the central government, but there is no confirmation of this.

Though they number only 6 million out of a total 110 million people living in Africa’s second most populous country, Tigrayans effectively ruled Ethiopia for decades. Until Abiy took power two years ago, they were the strongest force in a multi-ethnic coalition. Abiy, whose parents are from the larger Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups, freed thousands of political prisoners and pledged to end domination by one ethnic group.

“Even if the EDF are successful in their mission to take Mekelle,” the UN assessment warns, “this will not necessarily end the conflict. It is likely that a protracted asymmetric conflict and insurgency would continue. From a humanitarian perspective, the longer the conflict is drawn out, the more severe the crisis will become.

Ethiopia has long been a linchpin of US policy in the fragile east African region and so far Washington has supported Abiy.

Tibor Nagy, US assistant secretary for African affairs, told reporters last week: “This is not two sovereign states fighting. This is a faction of the government running a region that has decided to undertake hostilities against the central government, and it has not … had the effect they thought they were going to get.”

On Saturday, Abiy said on Twitter that the safety and wellbeing of the people of Tigray was of paramount importance and the federal government would do everything to “ensure stability prevails in the Tigray region and that our citizens are free from harm and want”.

Source=Secret UN report reveals fears of long and bitter war in Ethiopia - Eritrea Hub

(London 20/11/2020) Eritreans and Ethiopians opposed to the war in the State of Tigray in Ethiopia as well as the rest of Ethiopia and Eritrea, have today launched a joint campaign group that works to end the war by highlighting the devastation and humanitarian consequences of it.

The attack on Mekelle on 4th November escalated what had been long-standing tensions between Ethiopia’s federal government and the regional government of Tigray into a war.

Organising their activities under the slogan #AbiyEndTheWar the group comprising of Eritrean and Ethiopian campaigners aims to lobby the international community, raise awareness of the truths and myths concerning the war among fellow Eritreans, Ethiopians, the wider African community and friends of Africa. The group aims to carry out a peaceful socially distanced rally in London once lock down is lifted.

Yenabi Mezghebe spokeswoman for the group today stated ‘we are devastated by the war that has the hallmarks of a genocide initially against Tigrayans but will no doubt engulf many others if left unchecked, we call on all peace loving human beings to condemn the war and to call for reconciliation and mediation for all leaders involved’.

The campaign group is a very rare example of collaboration among Eritreans and Ethiopians given the many years of animosity between the two countries.

The war has escalated to engulf the Ethiopian federal government and two regional states in Ethiopia as well as Eritrea. The war was officially declared by Abiy Ahmed the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Prime Minister of Ethiopia following many months of escalating stand-off with his former colleagues in the Government of the Tigray State in the north.

Eritrea under President Isaias Afwerki, who has led the country without election since the country’s independence in 1993 joined the war in support of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed with whom he is said to have been having an unconventionally close relationship following their equally unconventional peace deal in 2018.

End

The joint group can be contacted on: +447939539468 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

NOVEMBER 20, 2020  ETHIOPIANEWS

Source: Hansard

Photo of Harriett BaldwinHarriett Baldwin Conservative, West Worcestershire

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what assessment he has made of the effect of the political situation in Ethiopia on the humanitarian situation in (a) Ethiopia, (b) Eritrea and (c) Sudan.

Photo of James DuddridgeJames Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We are concerned by the ongoing violence between federal and regional forces in the Tigray region and the risk it poses to civilians, and by reports of ethnically-motivated attacks. We are gravely concerned at Amnesty International‘s report of killings of civilians on 9 November and are investigating. The Foreign Secretary called Prime Minister Abiy on 10 November to raise our concerns and stress the urgent need to prioritise the protection of civilian lives, restore services (including banks and telecommunications) and enable humanitarian access. I also spoke to the Ethiopian Ambassador in London on 18 November to reiterate our concerns. The UK has called for immediate de-escalation in Tigray and is working closely with humanitarian agencies to ensure that aid reaches civilians affected by the fighting.

We are reviewing the impact the conflict is having on the delivery of essential health, food and education services in the region and assessing the humanitarian need. Before the current conflict there were already more than one million highly vulnerable persons across Tigray including refugees, internally displaced persons and chronically food insecure communities. The UN predicts that an additional 800,000 people could be impacted by violence in Tigray, causing internal displacement within Ethiopia and across international borders, notably in Sudan where UNHCR reports more than 27,000 people have now crossed the border. We continue to monitor the situation and are appealing to the Government of Ethiopia and others to ensure humanitarian access to those in need in Tigray and affected areas.

KAMPALA, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Youths burned tyres and blockaded streets in Uganda’s capital Kampala on Thursday and soldiers fanned out across the city with armoured vehicles, in a show of force a day after the arrest of an opposition presidential candidate triggered deadly unrest.

Police said three people were killed and at least 34 injured on Wednesday in what they described as riots after the arrest of Bobi Wine, a pop star and lawmaker who is the leading challenger to President Yoweri Museveni in an election in January. The state-run daily New Vision said at least seven people had died.

“This is a war-like situation, so the army has to deploy,” army spokeswoman Brigadier Flavia Byekwaso told Reuters.

“You can see what is going on, people are being stoned, people are being killed, vehicles are being vandalised, tyres everywhere,” she said. “These things are spontaneous on all streets, so police cannot handle such a situation.”

Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was detained on Wednesday after authorities accused him of violating anti-coronavirus measures by holding mass rallies.

Moments after Wine was detained while campaigning in eastern Uganda, spontaneous protests erupted in Kampala and several other major towns. Security personnel responded with tear gas. A journalist who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said he had seen troops firing automatic rifles.

There were signs that more violence could unfold on Thursday. A witness in Kyaliwajjala and surrounding areas in Kampala’s northern outskirts told Reuters he had seen youth piling tyres and wooden barricades on roads and setting them on fire.

Byekwaso, the army spokeswoman, said squads of both military and police were skirmishing with protesters in different parts of Kampala. At least two witnesses in the city told Reuters some streets in the city centre were deserted.

Authorities have been rattled by Wine’s surging support, especially among the youth, ahead of the Jan. 14 presidential election. Museveni, 76, has been in power since 1986 and is seeking a sixth term. (Reporting by Elias Biryabarema)

Refugees on the move as federal troops confront TPLF in Tigray and ethnic tensions escalate

Refugees arriving in the Qadarif region, eastern Sudan.
Refugees arriving in the Qadarif region, eastern Sudan. Photograph: Marwan Ali/AP
 Africa correspondent

International aid workers who have left Ethiopia’s Tigray region in recent days have described a chaotic and dynamic situation with large numbers on the move to avoid fighting, choking roads already full of military vehicles.

Federal troops are involved in a massive offensive aimed at removing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front from power in the northern region, and intensifying rhetoric from both sides has reinforced fears of a long and bloody conflict.

One aid worker, who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, said: “There are thousands of people trying to get away from the fighting, and the local administration is trying to house them in schools and public buildings, or disperse them into villages or wherever they might have relatives.”

Others described a recruitment drive in Tigray, with veterans re-enlisting and “widespread mobilisation”.

“There is a strong nationalistic fervour among the Tigrayans so I don’t think the Tigrayans are just going to yield. There is a big ethnic element here that is clearly escalating,” said a second aid worker.

One flashpoint is between Tigrayans and Amharans from the neighbouring province. Amharan security forces and militia are fighting alongside government troops as they advance into Tigray.

In a statement issued on Wednesday headlined “Distinguishing [the] TPLF from the People of Tigray”, the Ethiopian government denounced “mischaracterisations” suggesting that the military operation had any ethnic bias, and was simply aimed at maintaining the unity of Africa’s second most populous country.

“Our vision of Ethiopia is of a multinational society … Our common heritage and destiny is strong enough to overcome the threat posed by the divisive, sinister and toxic machinations of the TPLF clique,” it said.

However, Reuters reported that Ethiopian peacekeepers stationed in Somalia have disarmed between 200 and 300 of their Tigrayan colleagues.

Tigray’s leadership said on Wednesday it would never surrender to federal troops. “Tigray is now a hell to its enemies,” said Debretsion Gebremichael, the leader of the TPLF. “Let us mobilise our entire capacity … As long as the army of the invaders is in our land, the fight will continue.”

A statement from the office of the prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, promised to put an end to the “deadly crime spree” of Tigray’s “disgruntled, reactionary and rogue” leaders.

Officials said federal forces controlled multiple towns in southern Tigray and had advanced to within roughly 80 miles of Mekelle, but with communications cut to the region and no media allowed access it is impossible to confirm the claims.

Eyewitnesses described government air raids around Mekelle and elsewhere in Tigray, though were unable to say which targets had been hit. There have been reports of civilian casualties from the air strikes and artillery bombardments, with hundreds feared dead.

Abiy launched military operations two weeks ago after he accused the TPLF of attacking a military camp and attempting to seize military hardware. The TPLF denies the charge and has accused the prime minister of concocting the story to justify the offensive.

The open hostilities are the culmination of months, even years, of rising tensions between the TPLF’s leadership and the ruling coalition in Addis Ababa, the national capital.

Analysts say that many Tigrayans appear to support their leaders for the moment.

“The TPLF appears more popular among Tigrayans than it has been for a long time … Tigrayans are rallying around the flag,” said Will Davison, an Ethiopia expert with the International Crisis Group, which is based in Addis Ababa.

The UN, the African Union and others have called for talks, but Abiy has resisted despite fears of a humanitarian catastrophe.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has visited healthcare facilities in Tigray and Amhara and found them in need of medical supplies to care for an influx of wounded. One hospital in Gondar, the capital of Asmara, had treated more than 400 critically injured patients, the organisation said.

The Ethiopia Red Cross Society has transported hundreds of injured people and more than 1,000 people have contacted the ICRC’s hotline and visited its office in Mekelle and Addis Ababa looking for help to reach their families, said Katia Sorin, ICRC’s head of delegation in Addis Ababa.

“The telecommunications blackout in Tigray has made it practically impossible for people to contact their family members, causing fear and anguish on the whereabouts and safety of their loved ones,” Sorin said.

The UN and the African Union have called for a ceasefire. So too has the US, and the pope.

An open letter signed by 33 former British members of parliament and the European parliament, including four former ministers, called on the UK government to end its “woeful inertia” and threaten sanctions unless Ethiopia, Eritrea and other state actors pull back from the conflict.

“This is a unique moment in the history of a deeply conflicted part of the world…. We urge the government to give a stronger voice … to the need for peace,” the letter reads.

Abiy was appointed leader of the ruling coalition of Ethiopia and so prime minister in 2018. Though his sweeping reforms won widespread praise, they have allowed old ethnic and other grievances to surface.

The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s governing coalition for decades before Abiy came to power, and Tigrayan leaders complained of being unfairly targeted in corruption prosecutions.

The postponement of national elections owing to the Covid-19 pandemic aggravated tensions, and when parliamentarians in Addis Ababa voted to extend officials’ mandates Tigrayan leaders went ahead with regional elections in September that Abiy’s government deemed illegal, an act which some analysts say made a confrontation inevitable.