Published OCTOBER 18, 2021
Updated OCTOBER 18, 2021
FILE PHOTO: A tank damaged during the fighting between Ethiopia’s National Defense Force (ENDF) and Tigray Special Forces stands on the outskirts of Humera town. Photo: Reuters
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ADDIS ABABA -Rebellious Tigrayan forces accused the Ethiopian government of launching air strikes on the capital of Tigray region on Monday, and though a government official initially denied strikes, state-run media later reported the air force conducted an attack.
The reported raid follows intensified fighting https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/ethiopian-offensive-two-northern-regions-intensifies-tigrayan-forces-say-2021-10-13 in two other Ethiopian regions, where the central government's military is trying to recover territory taken by the northern province's Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF).
Tigrai TV, controlled by the TPLF, said the attack on the city of Mekelle killed three civilians.
Ethiopia's government spokesman, Legesse Tulu, denied launching any attack. "Why would the Ethiopian government attack its own city? Mekelle is an Ethiopian city," he said.
"Terrorists are the ones who attack cities with innocent civilians in them, not government," Legesse added. He accused the TPLF of killing civilians in fighting in neighbouring regions.
But the state-run Ethiopian Press Agency said late in the day that Ethiopia's air force conducted an air strike and that it was aimed at communications infastructure in the city.
The infrastructure had belonged to the government but had fallen under the control of the Tigrayan forces, the report read. The strike destroyed a communications tower and other equipment, the report read.
Reuters was not able to verify any of the accounts in an area that is off-limits to journalists.
A resident of the city told Reuters one strike hit close to a market, behind a hotel. An aid worker and a doctor in the region also said there had been an attack and a diplomat shared pictures of what they said was the aftermath, including pools of blood and smashed windows.
All asked not to be named. Reuters could not confirm the authenticity of the images.
Read more at https://www.todayonline.com/world/mekelle-capital-ethiopias-tigray-hit-air-strikes-regional-tv
These were the gruesome scenes shown in a video obtained by CNN in June, revealing massacres allegedly carried out by Ethiopian soldiers against locals in the northern province of Tigray. Days before, a unilateral ceasefire was announced by Addis Ababa after months-long fighting alongside forces from the Amhara neighbouring region and the Eritrean army in a bid to topple the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Fears are mounting those horrific atrocities could now happen again. The Ethiopian forces have launched what supporters of the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed dubbed the “final offensive.” This week, rebels said the government had launched a military push “on all fronts” to regain parts of Tigray and Amhara taken by the TPLF forces in June.
The war dates back to last November, when the government declared victory after seizing the regional capital Mekelle. But the TPLF kept fighting and managed to retake Mekelle and most of Tigray after government soldiers withdrew at the end of June.
Reports said this week coordinated attacks by the government forces and its allies took place in the Amhara and Afar regions close to Tigray’s southern border. The ground operations, the reports confirmed, are being backed by drones and airstrikes.
“An offensive by the Ethiopian military, together with a vast newly recruited army drawn from the country’s ethnic militia, has been launched,” Martin Plaut, a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, said.
Since the ceasefire, Ahmed’s war calculations were ultimately hampered by the lack of a political mandate, the heavy rain that swamped the north this year and severe shortages in manpower and weapons.
But in July, the Nobel Prize Laureate won the election with a landslide. Perhaps the tremendous political victory, Ahmed felt, was a nod from the Ethiopians to finish the arduous, protracting war in Tigray. And this, of course, means nothing less than total victory.
“Abiy Ahmed’s aides now feel the wind beneath their wings to get the job done,” one source in the region told The Independent.
In the past months, the campaign proved helpful to fire up nationalism among ordinary Ethiopians, bolster Ahmed’s political position and boost the vigorous recruitment of young men who “showed their patriotism” to join the fight.
This happens with a clear objective: “the people of Tigray [should] forever be separated from the terrorist group]”, Ahmed previously said, referring to the TPLF.
The Tigrayan forces have been pushing for reopening supply lines and ending the government forces’ blockade on the region by trying to seize strategic areas. This includes the North Wollo zone, Lalibela and Gondar, a strategic city on the crossroads to Sudan and Eritrea.
“The government’s priority will be to remove Tigrayan forces from neighbouring regions, which they pushed into following the withdrawal of federal forces from much of Tigray in late June and weaken their capacity to secure control of strategic supply lines,” Ahmed Soliman, a research fellow at Chatham House, said.
But to reach this objective, western diplomats say, Ahmed would lay down a “smokescreen” around the humanitarian situation to gain time without being under pressure from abroad.
This month, Addis Ababa expelled seven UN humanitarian officials and accused them of “meddling” in the conflict. The dramatic move could be intended as a cover-up of widely reported brutality by its forces and tighten the screws on the humanitarian operations as part of its preparations for the battle.
Since the war started last year, around two million people in Tigray have been displaced while warnings, including by the UN, have been centerd on a famine gripping over 400,000 people.
There are growing fears by the UN of a return to widespread famine in the region
“With malnutrition and starvation deaths rising, and restricted humanitarian access leading to an acute shortage of basic commodities and medicines, there are growing fears by the UN of a return to widespread famine in the region,” Mr Soliman said.
Witnesses have often blamed the Ethiopian soldiers and their Eritrean allies for using gang rape, mass expulsion and starvation as a weapon against the six million civilians bearing the brunt of the war in Tigray.
Ethiopian authorities don’t deny massacres carried out by their forces, which Amnesty International called “war crimes” that would amount to crimes against humanity.
In a statement sent to The Independent, a spokesperson for the Ethiopian embassy in London said Addis Ababa would not tolerate the carnage. “The Government has taken measures to investigate and hold accountable perpetrators of crimes committed within the context of the conflict, through the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, as well as in collaboration with the UN,” the statement said.
“No person, including serving soldiers, is above the law,” it added.
Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed (1st row, R) salutes members of the national defence forces
But observers insist several crimes, such as mass starvation and blocking access to humanitarian aid, are not isolated incidents committed by individuals. Instead, they claim they are techniques deliberately deployed by the government as part of a broader strategy to break the Tigranian resistance.
“Abiy has two objectives in Tigray. The first is to starve the population either into subjugation or out of existence. The second is to do that without attracting the global opprobrium that would arise from deliberately causing a massive famine taking millions of lives,” said Mark Lowcock, former UN relief chief who is currently a distinguished non-resident fellow with the Center for Global Development.
The dire humanitarian situation has been the centre of a parallel war of narratives where the two sides brand each other as war criminals.
Last month, the government accused the TPLF of killing and burying 120 civilians around the town of Dabat, near Gondar in the Amhara region.
In addition to the Tigryans, tens of thousands of people have also been displaced in neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions as a result of the ongoing bloodshed.
Ethiopian officials remain defiant. The London embassy spokesperson pledged to The Independent that the government would do whatever it takes to accelerate “the process” to end the TPLF hold over Tigray, stop its “atrocities”, and get aid to people in the region and Amhara and Afar.
“The Government of Ethiopia remains committed to employing everything at its disposal to expedite the process and let the necessary aid reach the people of Tigray.”
Despite the TPLF’s continued aggression, which is exacerbating the humanitarian situation, the international community has remained silent
“Despite the TPLF’s continued aggression, which is exacerbating the humanitarian situation, the international community has remained silent. We, therefore, call upon the international community to stand with the people and government of Ethiopia in condemning the TPLF’s atrocities and encroachment into other regions,” it added.
On the other side, the TPLF insist Ahmed has to go, saying he has initiated a “genocidal war” against their region.
“The Tigrayans have their backs to the wall. They are resisting the offensive while attempting to find a way of breaking out of the blockade around Tigray. This would mean carving a path to Sudan or Djibouti,” Mr Plaut said.
Western diplomats describe the pressure on Tigray as “unbearable.” The TPLF seems to have run out of options other than keeping up the fight, a strategy they previously proved to have mastered against a combined assault by Addis Ababa and Asmara.
They vowed to hold their ground, but it is not yet clear for how long.
Experts say the best strategy for the Tigrayan ruling party is to seek a negotiated solution to offset the massive government barrage.
Reports have said the Tigryan leaders have sought to discover the possibility of dialogue with the government over a more effective ceasefire.
But perhaps such an outcome can prove elusive given that the massive attack is at its early stages and that Ethiopian MP’s legitimacy as an able, strong leader who could maintain the country’s territorial integrity is at stake.
Ahmed’s government also seems to have run out of options. “The irony is that Abiy Ahmed’s game plan cannot work. If he tries and fails to destroy Tigray, he will be destroyed himself. If he succeeds, he will never survive the backlash that will follow,” Mr Lowcock noted.
“His best strategy is to try and find a way to start a dialogue with the Tigryans and get the hardliners within his ranks to join it,” he added.
There are, however, no signs Ahmed would consider the negotiations option soon.
International pressure on Addis Ababa to end the fighting has also built up. Neighbouring countries fear the crisis would turn into an all-out war that would lead to the disintegration of Ethiopia. Reports said diplomatic efforts by the African Union were underway behind the scenes to encourage talks.
The Biden administration also recently said it is conducting an interagency review as it considers targets for possible sanctions against the Ethiopian and Tigryan leaders.
Breaking the TPLF’s and re-capturing the whole of Tigray “would allow Ahmed’s government to be in a stronger position to resist American and European pressure to open negotiations with the Tigrayan regional government,” Mr Plaut stated.
Senior US official confirms – sanctions are on the cards for Ethiopian and Tigrayan leaders as war continuesThursday, 14 October 2021 19:58 Written by Eritrea Hub
“Speaking exclusively to The National, a senior US official said President Joe Biden’s administration is finalising an inter-agency process that would bring sanctions on people and entities responsible for the fighting…Asked about the targets of the sanctions, the US official mentioned ‘leaders, military forces or commercial entities who prolong the crisis, obstruct progress, or continue to hinder humanitarian access, or commit serious human rights abuses’.”
Source: The National
US considers sanctions on Ethiopia’s military commanders and commercial entities
Senior US official tells ‘The National’ that sanctions would include leaders, military forces or companies prolonging the Tigray conflict
By Joyce Karam ,Washington, Oct 13, 2021
Nearly a year since fighting broke out in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the US is weighing sanctions on the country’s government, warring factions and commercial entities fuelling the fighting.
Speaking exclusively to The National, a senior US official said President Joe Biden’s administration is finalising an inter-agency process that would bring sanctions on people and entities responsible for the fighting.
Last November, Addis Ababa launched an offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Since then, the conflict has spread to the Amhara region and has displaced more than two million civilians and leaving 5.2 million people in urgent need of food aid, the UN has reported.
The Ethiopian federal government, the Amhara regional government, the Tigrayan regional government and the Eritrean government are all involved in the conflict.
This week, the Ethiopian military launched a ground offensive to try to reverse recent TPLF gains, western officials told The New York Times.
The offensive throws a spanner into US, European and UN efforts to broker an immediate ceasefire, and strengthens the argument inside the Biden administration to impose sanctions.
Last month, Mr Biden signed an executive order that approved the structure of potential sanctions against perpetrators of violence in Ethiopia.
“The hope is not to have to use this tool [sanctions]. We want to prepare for negotiations for all parties to come to the table to end this conflict, to stop the human suffering and to let humanitarian assistance flow into that region where so many people are desperately in need,” the senior official said.
“But where we are now is that neither the TPLF, nor the [Ethiopian] government and their forces have stopped their offences and counter offences, and they’re not coming to the table, so we are currently looking at employing this tool.”
We’re holding out some sort of glimmers of hope but unfortunately it’s not looking very optimistic
Senior US official
Asked about the targets of the sanctions, the US official mentioned “leaders, military forces or commercial entities who prolong the crisis, obstruct progress, or continue to hinder humanitarian access, or commit serious human rights abuses”.
Such designations would first undergo a thorough process of gathering evidence and consulting across different agencies, the official said.
In an investigation last week, CNN revealed that Ethiopia’s government used its state-owned commercial airline to transport weapons to and from neighbouring Eritrea during the first weeks of the conflict in Tigray.
But while readying sanctions, Washington is exhausting diplomatic avenues to reach a ceasefire.
“We don’t do this lightly. We’re holding out some sort of glimmers of hope but unfortunately it’s not looking very optimistic,” the senior US official added.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has described the war as a “law enforcement operation”.
The UN estimates 400,000 Tigrayans are living in famine-like conditions and humanitarian organisations have documented extrajudicial killings and rape.
The US State Department has launched a legal review examining whether the Tigray humanitarian crisis amounts to genocide.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met African Union High Representative for the Horn of Africa Olusegun Obasanjo to stress the urgency of finding a path to negotiations.
The Biden administration is also considering the expulsion of Ethiopia from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) by the end of the month, which would further constrain its economy and cut its duty-free access to the US market for thousands of products.
“It’s required by the law of the United States, it must restrict AGOA eligibility for countries that have committed gross violations of human rights,” the official said.
William Davison, a senior analyst on Ethiopia with the International Crisis Group, saw the imposition of US sanctions as highly probable in the next few weeks.
“Given the current situation and the likelihood of continued fighting, particularly in the Amhara region, I think we are likely to see the US implement targeted sanctions soon, maybe around the end of the month,” Mr Davison told The National.
The expert said commanders from the warring sides are likely targets.
“For the next few weeks at least, the parties are locked into more conflict and that’s what makes it likely that commanders on all sides will soon face sanctions.”
Asked if such penalties would change the calculus on the ground, Mr Davison said not immediately.
“The immediate reaction to the sanctions will most likely be defiance from the federal government. I do not think it will change its policy on the war. By and large, that goes for the other actors in the conflict as well when their commanders are sanctioned,” he said.
For the calculations to change, “the overall pressure has to increase, on the security, political and economic fronts, in such a way that more people in the Ethiopian government and society start to think that the trajectory that the country is on is very worrying and needs to be altered,” he argued.
Canada continues to provide financial support to the Ethiopian government despite allegations of war crimesThursday, 14 October 2021 19:52 Written by Eritrea Hub
Source: Canadian dimension
In the final weeks of September, images began to emerge of severely malnourished children from Tigray, the northernmost region of Ethiopia, home to around seven million people. These pictures provided visual proof of the humanitarian calamity the United Nations has long been warning about.
Tigray is currently suffering the worst famine anywhere in the world, with millions in dire need of food. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs revealed that 400,000 people in Tigray are suffering from catastrophic hunger while USAID puts the number at nearly one million. According to UNICEF, over 100,000 children in Tigray are at risk of starvation-induced deaths, while the UN is recording “unprecedented” malnutrition (now over 22 percent) particularly among children, pregnant women, and new mothers.
Terrible stories from the region, of people going for days without eating or subsisting on leaves to survive, underscore the severity of the famine, which has already killed hundreds, if not thousands. All the more horrific is that this famine, which threatens the lives of millions, is not the result of drought or a natural disaster. It is a man-made famine, brought on by the systematic and deliberate campaign of destruction unleashed on Tigray by the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea since November 2020 in their military offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
On November 4, 2020, while much of the world was engrossed in the outcome of the US presidential elections, Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared war on Tigray. This declaration followed years of escalating political tensions between the Ethiopian federal government and the regional government in Tigray. While ostensibly declaring it a domestic law and order operation, Abiy invited forces from Eritrea and the neighbouring Amhara region to launch a brutal offensive against the people of Tigray.
Despite the communications blockade imposed by the Abiy regime since November, news began to emerge of atrocities carried out by the Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Amhara forces in Tigray, including hundreds of massacres, pervasive sexual and gender-based violence, and attacks on religious sites, all of which have decimated the region’s health, food, and education infrastructure and displaced millions. The atrocities perpetrated by the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and bear the hallmarks of genocide.
The man-made famine is a central component of Abiy’s campaign in Tigray. With roads in and out of the region closed, trade and commerce halted, and humanitarian organizations prevented from accessing the north of the country, there were warnings of famine as early as January of this year. Reports show that Ethiopian and Eritrean forces destroyed and looted crops, killed livestock, burned food supplies, banned farming, and blocked humanitarian access into Tigray in a deliberate attempt to create and exacerbate the starvation crisis. Since being pushed out of many parts of Tigray in late June, the Ethiopian government has continued to besiege the region, cutting off its inhabitants from electricity, transportation, communication, and enacting a de facto aid blockade.
Recognizing that the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe from the war on Tigray is too grave to ignore, the United States and the European Union (as well as the United Kingdom) have been working to facilitate a cessation of hostilities. On September 17, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order authorizing a wide-ranging sanctions regime on Ethiopia. Similarly, on October 7, the EU parliament adopted a resolution calling for sanctions and an arms embargo on Ethiopia. Many other states, international organizations and humanitarian agencies have similarly been vocal in their calls for an end to the hostilities.
There is, however, one notable absence among the chorus of voices holding Mr. Abiy’s regime to account: Canada. Since November, beyond issuing a few half-hearted statements, the Trudeau government has not taken any meaningful steps to utilize the tools at its disposal to facilitate an end to the conflict. The Canadian response has been weak and ineffective, which is surprising given the significant leverage at Canada’s disposal. Ethiopia is one of the largest recipients of Canadian development assistance, having received nearly $2 billion between 2010 and 2019. Moreover, in 2018 alone, trade between Canada and Ethiopia peaked at over $170 million.
Canada has a strong economic relationship it could use to push for a meaningful ceasefire and the opening up of aid access into Tigray. Yet, not only has Justin Trudeau’s government shown its unwillingness to move beyond tepid statements, but it has also continued to provide financial support to the Ethiopian government, which stands accused of atrocities and helping to spur the world’s worst famine crisis in a decade.Justin Trudeau and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, February 8, 2020. Photo from Twitter.
While it is easy to dismiss the humanitarian catastrophe in Tigray as just another war in a remote part of the world, this crisis should be at the centre of Canadian foreign policy discourse for two key reasons. First, Canadian presence across the world needs to live up to the values its leaders claim to espouse. As early as 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau promised to bring Canada’s “compassionate and constructive voice” back to the world stage. However, with respect to Tigray, the Trudeau government has been neither compassionate nor constructive. In fact, in so far as it has had a discernable voice at all, it has raised it in defense of a regime that has been accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide. The complete disjuncture between Canadian foreign policy rhetoric and practice should be alarming and disconcerting to all.
Second, and more disturbingly, reporting by The Breach has revealed that Canadian mining companies have been investing heavily in Tigray since November 2020. At least six Canadian firms are either already in or have licenses to operate in Tigray, while two Canadian companies have worked closely with the Ethiopian government amid the war. The reporting suggests that the Canadian government’s lacklustre response to the humanitarian catastrophe may be influenced by its desire to protect the millions of dollars it has spent to reform the mining sector in Ethiopia and protect the investments of domestic mining companies that believe the region “holds billions of dollars in gold.”
As is well known, Canadian mining companies have been widely criticized for their conduct across the Global South, which includes environmental disasters, gross human rights abuses, and attacks against Indigenous peoples. The link emerging between Canadian mining interests in Tigray and Canada’s ongoing support for the Ethiopian government could be the newest addition to this roster of injustices. That this is happening under a government that prides itself on its feminist credentials and espouses noble values about Canada’s benevolence makes it all the more hypocritical.
If Prime Minister Trudeau wants to bring Canada’s compassionate and constructive voice back to the world stage, this is the time to do so. The Abiy government’s war in Tigray represents a decisive moment for Canada to affirm the values it proclaims guide its presence in the world, by deploying all of the economic, political, and diplomatic tools at its disposal to help bring a swift end to the humanitarian crisis before it spirals out of control.
Fifi H. is a graduate student in the field of international political economy. Her research focuses on the political economy of development and urbanization in the African context.
“Senior Western officials broadly confirmed Tigrayan accounts that the assault, which had been anticipated for weeks, started in the Amhara region, which borders Tigray to the south. “
Source: New York TimesLining up for food aid in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia on Sunday.Credit…Jemal Countess/Getty Images
By Declan WalshOct. 12, 2021
NAIROBI, Kenya — The conflict in northern Ethiopia has escalated sharply in recent days, as Ethiopian forces began a sweeping offensive in a bid to reverse recent gains by Tigrayan rebels, Western officials and Tigrayan leaders said.
U.N. officials said the attack will deepen the humanitarian crisis in a region that is plunging into the world’s worst famine in a decade. With the Ethiopian government blocking aid shipments, some starving Tigrayans are eating leaves to survive.
Senior Western officials broadly confirmed Tigrayan accounts that the assault, which had been anticipated for weeks, started in the Amhara region, which borders Tigray to the south. But beyond that, it is hard to get a clear picture of the situation.
A strict communications blackout imposed by the government means few details about the fighting can be independently confirmed. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was sworn in for a second term last week, has declined to comment in recent days.
His spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Speaking by phone, Gen. Tsadkan Gebretensae, a member of the central command of the Tigray forces and its leading strategist, said Ethiopian forces had begun the military operation on Friday with a bombardment of Tigrayan positions using warplanes, artillery and drones.
On Monday, the Ethiopians switched to a ground offensive led by thousands of fighters, to be met by a Tigrayan counteroffensive, he said.
“The enemy has been preparing for months, and so have we,” said General Tsadkan, who previously commanded Ethiopia’s armed forces for a decade. He predicted the coming battle would be a “decisive moment” for the country.
“The ramifications will be military, political and diplomatic,” he said. “I don’t think this will be a protracted fight — a matter of days, most probably weeks.”Ethiopian soldiers training in Dabat last month. Government forces have been preparing for the recent move against the Tigrayan rebels for months.Credit…Amanuel Sileshi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
For Mr. Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, the offensive is an effort to wrest control of a brutal 11-month war that has ruined his reputation as a peacemaker and slipped beyond his grip as the fighting spread to new areas in recent months.
Mr. Abiy has appeared increasingly isolated from international support as the United States threatens him with the prospect of sanctions, and he clashes with the U.N. leadership. Only a few African leaders have continued to support him.
This month, Ethiopia expelled seven senior U.N. officials it accused of “meddling” in the nation’s internal affairs and diverting aid to the Tigrayan rebels. The U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres denied those charges in unusually sharp language, telling Mr. Abiy the expulsions had no legal basis.
Likening the situation to the devastating Somalia famine of 2011, Mr. Guterres said he warned Mr. Abiy that Ethiopian restrictions on the delivery of aid had created a humanitarian crisis that was “spiraling out of control.”
Over five million Tigrayans urgently need relief aid, and at least 400,000 are in famine-like conditions, the U.N. says. But barely one-tenth of required aid has reached them because Ethiopia has blocked the routes into the region, officials said.
The Biden administration has tried to force Mr. Abiy and the Tigrayans into peace talks by threatening sanctions against “officials and entities” who block humanitarian aid and refuse to stop fighting.
With his latest attack, however, Mr. Abiy seems to be gambling that he can prevail using force.
Western officials said the Ethiopian leader had been preparing the offensive for months. He amassed new weapons from foreign suppliers and recruited tens of thousands of young Ethiopians to help fight Tigrayan forces he has described as “cancer” and “weeds.”Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during his inauguration ceremony in Addis Ababa last week, where he was sworn in for a second five-year term.Credit…Mulugeta Ayene/Associated Press
One Western official said Mr. Abiy had acquired new drones built in Iran, Turkey and China, although it is unclear who supplied them to Ethiopia. Websites that track international air traffic have recorded dozens of cargo flights from the United Arab Emirates, and a handful from Iran, into Ethiopian air force bases in the past six weeks.
Tigrayan leaders have accused the U.A.E. of sending armed drones to help Mr. Abiy during the early weeks of the war last November; Emirati officials have refused to comment. Airstrikes took out most of the Tigrayan artillery and forced its troops to retreat into the remote countryside.
A more consequential question now is whether Eritrea will again rally to Mr. Abiy’s side. Eritrean troops offered crucial support in the first phase of the war, until June, and faced many of the worst accusations of atrocities against civilians. The Eritreans are currently occupying Humera, a town in western Tigray, and some have deployed to Amhara, two western officials said.
But it’s unclear if they are participating in the latest fighting.
Tigrayan forces scored a series of surprise victories that forced Ethiopian forces out of Tigray. In July, the Tigrayans pushed into the Amhara region, where the fighting has been centered ever since.
A long-running dispute between Amhara and Tigray over a swath of disputed land drew Amhara militias into the fight against Tigray last November. The Tigrayans say those fighters are also participating in the latest offensives, along with regular Ethiopian troops and young men from across Ethiopia drawn by Mr. Abiy’s appeal for recruits during the summer.
But General Tsadkan, the Tigrayan commander, said he considered the autocratic leader of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, who is an old foe of the Tigrayans, as his greatest threat.
“Isaias and his army are the major spoiler in the region,” he said. “If the international community is earnestly looking for a peaceful solution, a settlement will not happen without taking care of Isaias.”In Amba Giorgis, in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, last month.Credit…Amanuel Sileshi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Both sides face intense pressures. The Tigrayans, surrounded by enemies, risk running out of supplies soon. Mr. Abiy is wrestling with a steep economic slide that has led to soaring food prices and foreign currency shortages, which American sanctions could soon make worse.
Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s biggest airline and Ethiopia’s flagship economic success, last week denied a report on CNN that its aircraft had been used to ship weapons and soldiers for the war in Tigray.
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with the newly appointed African Union envoy to Ethiopia, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, to discuss the crisis.
Some African leaders are standing by Mr. Abiy. Six heads of state, mostly from the region, attended his inauguration celebrations in Addis Ababa last week. But several of the congratulatory speeches included expressions of growing concern, and urged Mr. Abiy toward peace talks.
“Ethiopia is our mother,” said President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya. “If our mother is not at peace, neither can the family be at peace.”
The criticism of Mr. Abiy in the West is growing increasingly strident. Last week an essay by Mark Lowcock, a former British diplomat and until recently the U.N.’s humanitarian chief, accused Mr. Abiy of trying to starve the people of Tigray “either into subjugation or out of existence” and warned he risked causing his country to collapse.
“Abiy’s game plan cannot work,” Mr. Lowcock wrote, citing what he said was a growing expert consensus. “If he tries and fails to destroy Tigray, he will be destroyed himself. If he succeeds, he will never survive the backlash that will follow.”
Maureen Achieng – head of United Nation’s migration agency in Ethiopia – withdrawn after she called the TPLF “dirty” and “vicious”, vowing never to return to Tigray.
The departure of Maureen Achieng, confirmed in a letter dated Monday and seen by AFP, risks further undermining an aid response still shaken by Ethiopia’s decision last month to expel seven other senior UN officials for allegedly “meddling” in its affairs.
It comes more than 11 months into a brutal war in northern Ethiopia that has driven hundreds of thousands of people into famine-like conditions, according to UN estimates, and sparked mounting global concern.
Last week, multiple recordings surfaced online of Achieng and another senior UN official granting a lengthy interview to Jeff Pearce, a writer who has published multiple articles defending the government’s conduct of the war against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
In the recordings, Achieng, the International Organization for Migration’s chief of mission to Ethiopia, tears into colleagues who “descended on” Addis Ababa after the war erupted last November and, in her telling, sidelined officials on the ground.
She also calls the TPLF “dirty” and “vicious”, vowing never to return to Tigray.
At one point she accuses the rebels of plotting to have Tigrayan migrant workers facing deportation from Saudi Arabia sent to Rwanda.
“And then you don’t know what guerrilla movement starts from Rwanda. I mean, it’s dirty,” she says.
In an internal note to colleagues last week, also seen by AFP, Achieng said she was “deeply disturbed and disappointed” by the audio, which she said had been “surreptitiously recorded and selectively edited.”
However at several points during the interview the participants openly discuss that it is being recorded.
– ‘We do not take sides’ –
On Monday Antonio Vitorino, director general of IOM, wrote a letter distancing the agency from Achieng’s comments.
“The opinions attributed in the audio recordings to the staff member do not correspond to IOM’s principles and values and should not in any way be considered as expressing IOM’s positions,” it said.
The letter, which does not refer to Achieng by name, says she was “immediately recalled” and “put on administrative leave” pending an investigation.
Her interview violated the IOM’s values and code of conduct, Mohammed Abdiker, the agency’s regional director for the East and Horn of Africa, told AFP.
“In all our operations we try to be impartial and neutral in our work. We do not take sides in a conflict,” Abdiker said, adding that Achieng’s comments raised security concerns for staff members on the ground, including in Tigray.
The dust-up comes amid fears fighting is about to intensify again, with the TPLF saying Monday that government troops had launched ground offensives “on all fronts” including in the northern region of Amhara.
Ethiopian officials have not confirmed the new offensive, though a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said the government had “a responsibility to protect its citizens in all parts of the country from any acts of terrorism”.
Humanitarian and rebel sources told AFP over the weekend that Ethiopian troops had launched air and ground strikes as part of the first phase of an offensive which — if confirmed — would come just one week after Abiy was sworn in for a new five-year term.
A US State Department spokesperson told AFP Monday that Washington was considering “the use of targeted economic sanctions to hold accountable those responsible for, or complicit in, prolonging the conflict”.
Hate and division on Facebook are not just a problem in the U.S. That’s one of the messages whistleblower Frances Haugen took to Congress last week, where she accused Facebook’s algorithms of quote, “literally fanning ethnic violence in Ethiopia,” a country that’s endured nearly a year of civil war.
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FRANCES HAUGEN: My fear is that without action, divisive and extremist behaviors we see today are only the beginning. What we saw in Myanmar and are now seeing in Ethiopia are only the opening chapters of a story so terrifying, no one wants to read the end of it.
CORNISH: The United Nations says millions of people have been forced from their homes. Hundreds of thousands are facing famine-like conditions because of the conflict between the Ethiopian government and Tigray rebels. Freelance journalist Zecharias Zelalem has been reporting extensively on Ethiopia, and he says he agrees with Haugen’s assessment. And we’ll pause here to note that Facebook is among NPR’s financial supporters.
Now, earlier, Zelalem described the role of social media in the conflict.
ZECHARIAS ZELALEM: Just looking at the instances of documented evidence over the course of the past three years in which prominent Facebook posters would post unverified, often inflammatory posts or rhetoric that would then go on to incite mob violence, ethnic clashes, crackdowns on independent press or outspoken voices.
CORNISH: Who were some of the perpetrators of this kind of violence? I mean, when you say someone posts misinformation, what could that look like that could start a mob?
ZELALEM: Well, in recent times, if we’re going to make reference to the ongoing conflict now, prominent members of the Ethiopian government or pro-government activists have been ramping up anti-Tigrayan rhetoric, as well as anti-journalist, anti-activist, inflammatory rhetoric targeting anyone who might be deemed critical of the Ethiopian government or critical of the Ethiopian government’s narratives. This has more or less normalized the state violence that’s been targeting ethnic Tigrayans over the course of the past 11 months, instilled a degree of fear amongst Ethiopian population.
CORNISH: The Ethiopian government has denied ethnic cleansing accusations. Can you talk about how the conflict is upending the lives of civilians?
ZELALEM: Well, I mean, the ethnic cleansing accusations are something that are very well-documented and corroborated by dozens of credible media sources and diplomatic sources, human rights organizations. At this point, 11 months into the conflict, it’s not really something that’s up for – it’s not really something that’s up for debate anymore.
CORNISH: Facebook has responded to Haugen’s criticisms by saying, quote, “to suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true.” They also talk about the idea of having to balance freedom of expression in places where people use the platform. What, if anything, is this conversation like in Ethiopia? Is anyone talking about Facebook? From your position, are they doing what they say?
ZELALEM: Well, with regards to your second question, Ethiopia being a relatively authoritarian society, critical conversation is not something that’s encouraged. It’s something that could wind you up behind bars. So there isn’t that much of an open societal debate. But I can quite honestly say that Facebook has – if it has done anything, it’s not nearly enough, at least, because there have been more than enough documented incidents.
I know of a very recent instance where a media outlet posted an inflammatory post blaming members of an ethnic minority for carrying out the murders and kidnappings that took place on September 27. And this Facebook post got hundreds of shares, hundreds of likes, all sorts of reaction. And a day later, on the 28 of September – so just barely two weeks ago – the village cited in the Facebook post was ransacked, burnt to the ground, inhabitants murdered. Like I said, this is very recent. This is barely two weeks ago. And despite multiple efforts to report the post, it remains up and live as of this moment.
CORNISH: We’ve been speaking to journalist Zecharias Zelalem. Thank you for sharing your reporting.
ZELALEM: Thank you for having me.
CORNISH: We reached out to Facebook. They told NPR that Ethiopia is a company priority and that it has worked to improve proactive detection to remove more harmful content at scale.