Tigray conflict

The Tigray conflict is an ongoing armed conflict that began in November 2020 in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia, between Tigray Region special forces led by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), and the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) in alliance with Amhara Region special forces.[15]

Tigray conflict
Part of conflicts in the Horn of Africa
Tigray in Ethiopia.svg
Location of Tigray Region in Ethiopia
(For a more detailed map, see here.)
DateMain phase: 4 November 2020 – 28 November 2020 (3 weeks and 3 days)
Insurgency phase: 28 November 2020 – present (2 days)
Location
Status

Ongoing

  • ENDF captures Mekelle,[2] Ethiopian government claims victory and declares main phase over.[3]
  • The TPLF vows to continue fighting and claims to have recaptured Axum.[4]
Belligerents
 Ethiopia

 Eritrea (alleged)
 United Arab Emirates (alleged)[1]
Tigray Region
Commanders and leaders

Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed
(Prime Minister of Ethiopia)
Ethiopia Birhanu Jula
(ENDF Chief of Staff)
Ethiopia Kenea Yadeta
(Minister of Defense)
Tiruneh Temesgen
(Chief Administrator of Amhara Region, early November 2020)
Agegnehu Teshager
(Chief Administrator of Amhara Region, as of late November 2020)
Mulu Nega
(Federally appointed Chief Administrator of the Tigray Region)
Alleged:

Eritrea Isayas Afeworki
(President of Eritrea)
Eritrea Filipos Woldeyohannes
(Chief of the Defence Staff)
Debretsion Gebremichael
  • President of Tigray Region
  • Chairman of TPLF

Units involved
Ethiopia Ethiopian National Defense Force

Ethiopia Ethiopian Federal Police

Amhara Region Police Force


Alleged or on Standby:

Eritrea Eritrean Defence Forces
  • Tigray Region Special Force
  • Tigray Region Police Force
  • Tigray Region Militias
[6][7][8][9]
Casualties and losses
550 killed (government claim)[10]
At least 611 civilians killed; thousands feared dead[11][12][13][14][2]

The conflict stemmed from the attempt of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to distance the country's politics from ethnic federalism, a power-sharing system giving regional influence to individual ethnic groups, by merging the ethnic and region-based parties of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, which had governed Ethiopia for 30 years, into a nationwide Prosperity Party.

The Tigray People's Liberation Front, a military and politically powerful entity inside Ethiopia representing 6% of the total population ethnically, refused to join the new party, and alleged that Abiy Ahmed became an illegitimate ruler by rescheduling the general elections set for 29 August 2020 to an undetermined date in 2021 due to COVID-19.

The TPLF, led by Chairman Debretsion Gebremichael, went ahead with regional elections in Tigray in September 2020 in defiance of the federal government, which declared the Tigray election illegal.[16]

The situation escalated to violence on the 4th of November with an alleged attack by the Tigray People's Liberation Front on the Northern Command Headquarters of the Ethiopian National Defense Force. Rocket attacks have spilled over into the neighbouring Amhara Region and country of Eritrea.

The federal forces captured the Tigrayan capital of Mekelle on 28 November, following which Prime Minister Abiy declared the Tigray operation 'over'.[2][3] The TPLF has said they will continue fighting.[17]

BackgroundEdit

Historical/politicalEdit

Following the end of the Ethiopian Civil War in 1991, Ethiopia became a dominant-party state under the rule of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of ethnicity-based parties whose founding, and most influential, member was the TPLF, whose chairperson was Meles Zenawi, FDRE Prime Minister until his death in 2012. Hailemariam Dessalegn, an ethnic Wolayta from the Southern Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement (SEPDM), became premier.[18][19]

The TPLF used to be part of the Ethiopian governing coalition until its 2019 refusal to merge into the Prosperity Party.[20] Tensions between the government and the TPLF escalated in the months before the Tigray military intervention.[20] Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is of Oromo-Amhara descent, accused the TPLF Party Members in the Tigray Regional Government of undermining his authority.[20] By contrast, the Tigray authorities saw the refusal to recognise the September 2020 election for the Tigray parliament (which, along with all elections in Ethiopia, had been delayed by the federal government and elections board until the end of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ethiopia) as the reason for the outbreak of the conflict.[20] Abiy Ahmed's government considered the September Tigray election to be illegal.[21] The warming of relations between Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, who is poorly regarded in Tigray, was also considered to have fuelled the tension.[20]

The day prior to the TPLF's alleged attack on a military camp, the federal parliament of Ethiopia had suggested designating the TPLF as a terrorist organization.[20] As tension continued to grow, a general appointed by Ahmed was prevented by the Tigrayan government from taking on his military post.[citation needed]

Constitutional contextEdit

The 1995 Constitution of Ethiopia states in Article 39, 1, "Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession."[22]

Article 62, 9 grants HoF the right to "order Federal [government] intervention if any State [government], in violation of [the] Constitution, endangers the constitutional order."[22]

In late September 2020, the TPLF stated that the constitutional term limit of the HoF, the House of Peoples' Representatives (HoPR), the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers was 5 October 2020, and that for this reason, it would consider "the incumbent" constitutionally illegitimate after 5 October. TPLF proposed replacing the government by a technocratic caretaker government as detailed in a plan posted on Facebook by the Coalition of Ethiopian Federalist Forces.[23]

Course of the conflictEdit

On 4 November 2020, Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) soldiers came into conflict during Tigrayan attacks on an Ethiopian base in Mekelle and the Fifth Battalion barracks in Dansha.[24][25] In retaliation, an Ethiopian offensive was launched which was accompanied by a declaration of a state of emergency and a shutdown of government services in the region.[26][27] During the subsequent days, skirmishes continued and the Ethiopian parliament established an interim government for Tigray.[28] Ethiopian offensives in the north were accompanied with airstrikes and several towns and cities were retaken.[29] On 14 November 2020, Tigrayan forces launched rockets at the Eritrean capital of Asmara with the intent to drag other countries into the conflict, but the missiles missed.[30] By 18 November, the prime minister of Ethiopia claimed that they had captured the cities of Shire and Axum with battles going on around Mekelle; Ethiopian forces further claimed to have taken some land south of the city.[31][32][33] On 23 November, the government issued an ultimatum giving the rebels 72 hours to surrender.[34] On 26 November, when the ultimatum ended, Abiy ordered federal military forces to launch an attack on Mekelle.[35][36] On 28 November, the Ethiopian government announced that it had taken control of the city, bringing the "the last phase of its law enforcement operation" to an end. The TPLF has said they will continue fighting.[3][37] Debretsion confirmed TPLF was withdrawing from Mekelle. Thousands of people are believed to have been killed in the conflict and around 44,000 have fled to Sudan.[2] On the 29th of November claims that South Sudan was harboring the chairman of the TPLF, Debretsion Gebremichael, led to the Ethiopian ambassador to South Sudan to return to Ethiopia, and allegedly South Sudanese diplomats in Ethiopia were given 72 hours to leave the country.[38]

Role of online social networksEdit

Claire Wilmot, writing in The Washington Post, speculated that Internet restrictions imposed by the Abiy government during the Tigray conflict might be motivated by the wish to deescalate the conflict. She argued that much of the Twitter activity that she analysed was authentic English-language communication by Ethiopian diaspora, with the hashtag #StopTheWarOnTigray, and aiming to complement the "one-sided and highly dangerous image" that dominated views on the conflict.[39] Wilmot saw the Tigray conflict related Ethiopian online activity as mostly distinct from Ethiopian online hate speech, which in 2019 was mostly in Amharic on Facebook, but also suggested that the lines between authentic online political activity and deliberate misinformation[40] were becoming blurred. Wilmot suggested that the "information vacuum" in the conflict reduced the "ability to verify information".[39]

ReactionsEdit

NationalEdit

  • The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) condemned the "decision of President Mustafe to portray Somalis in Ethiopia as supporters of the war against Tigray".[41]
  • On November 12, 2020, the TPLF chairman Debretsion Gebremichael denied allegations that the TPLF had surrendered, stating that "we are still holding. These people cannot defeat us. We cannot be beaten."[42]
  • On November 27, Ethiopian Attorney General, Gedion Timothewos, pressed by the BBC's Stephen Sackur to clarify if his country was now "sinking into civil war", responded: "If the Prime Minister were to let the TPLF go on with the kind of things they have been doing, if he had let them acquire the heavy weaponry they wanted to acquire by attacking the Northern Command, yes, we would have descended into that kind of situation; but by taking the measures we are taking right now, we will be able to avert that possibility." [43]

InternationalEdit

  • The United Nations (UN) warned of the emergence of a major humanitarian crisis, should a full-scale conflict arise.[44]
  • The African Union (AU) appealed for cessation of hostilities and protection of civilians.[45]
  • Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne called on all parties to show restraint. Champagne also called for a peaceful solution and protection of civilians.[46]
  • Djiboutian President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh expressed strong support for Abiy, saying that he had chosen to "restore law and order at the federal level, and punish those seeking to break up the country" and dismissed the prospect of negotiations, saying that the TPLF had "structured itself so as to bring the central government to its knees" and that talks could "only lead to the partition of Ethiopia", as they would set a precedent under which other regional groups would be able to assert their own secessionist claims.[47]
  • British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he had spoken with Abiy and urged "de-escalation of the Tigray conflict" and further stated that "civilians and humanitarian access must be protected".[48]
  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged de-escalation of the conflict and immediate action to restore peace, and emphasized the importance of protecting civilians.[49] U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's foreign policy adviser Antony Blinken expressed deep concern over the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia, ethnic violence and threats to peace and security in the area. He called on the TPLF to protect civilians and take steps to end the conflict.[50]
  • Worldwide, humanitarian organisations and the scientific community asked rapidly for ceasefire and humanitarian aid to the people of Tigray.[51][52]
  • The European Commission said it was mobilizing an initial €4 million in emergency aid, in order to assist displaced Ethiopian refugees fleeing to Sudan.[53]
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, urged the warring parties in the Ethiopia's Tigray region conflict to give clear instructions to their forces to take all the precautions and protect civilians from the hostilities.[54]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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