Heavy losses have been reported in the ongoing clashes between the Ethiopian army and troops loyal to the ruling party in the troubled northern province of Tigray.
At least six people have been killed and 60 injured in a single location along the Tigray border, Doctors Without Borders said on Saturday, and a medical official said nearly 100 government soldiers were treated for injuries by bullet in a hospital in the northern region of Amhara.
Ethiopian Prime Minister and last year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate Abiy Ahmed on Wednesday sent federal troops and planes to Tigray in a major escalation of a long-standing feud.
The fighting has brought Africa’s second most populous country to the brink of what analysts see as a long and bloody civil war.
Abiy and the military leaders praised the success of the Ethiopian soldiers, but a power outage in the region made their accounts difficult to verify. Both sides have access to heavy weapons, armor and considerable stocks of ammunition.
Abiy also replaced his army chief on Sunday and appointed deputy chief Berhanu Jula to take over the Ethiopian national defense forces. The move was part of a larger reshuffle that appeared to be aimed at bringing Operation Tigray’s most vocal supporters to the fore.
Ambulances can frequently be seen transporting wounded fighters to hospital on roads in northern Amhara, and eyewitnesses have reported militia burials.
“We had 98 cases. All are soldiers of the national army, ”said a doctor from the town of Sanja, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
He said there were no deaths at the hospital, but more serious cases had been taken to larger hospitals in Gondar town and elsewhere.
Reports of dead and injured soldiers have risen in recent days in Amhara, where an aid worker said three were dead and 35 were treated on Saturday. Five were killed and 105 injured on Friday.
Countries in the region fear the fighting could spark an all-out civil war and destabilize the Horn of Africa, one of the most fragile regions on the continent.
The UN has warned of a major humanitarian crisis if as many as 9 million people flee merciless fighting or if Tigray remains largely cut off from the world.
In a televised speech on Sunday, Abiy accused regional leaders in Tigray of preparing for war with the federal government since 2018. The group had siphoned off development funds to buy weapons and train militias, he said. .
A senior general told a state newspaper that several localities in Tigray were now under the control of the federal army. “The army destroyed all heavy weapons controlled by the infidel group. Now he’s moving forward, ”he said.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front dominated politics in Ethiopia for nearly three decades before Abiy came to power in 2018 after anti-government protests. He now only controls his home province.
Tigray leaders have complained that they have been unfairly targeted in corruption prosecutions, removed from their top posts and scapegoated for the country’s woes under Abiy.
The long-running feud grew more intense after Tigray held its own elections in September in defiance of Abiy’s government, which had decided to postpone national elections due to the coronavirus pandemic.
MPs voted on Saturday to suspend Tigray leaders and install an interim administration in the province.
In the capital, Addis Ababa, the mayor announced on Sunday that 10 senior officials of the city of Tigray had been arrested, accusing them of “betraying the people” and of working “to destabilize peace in our city and to engage in cruel and terrorist motives. “.
But in a Twitter post on Sunday, Abiy called on Ethiopians to avoid discrimination against Tigrayans, who make up around 6% of the country’s 110 million people. “I would like to reiterate that no Tigrayan brother or sister should be the victim of illegal acts based on identity, and this responsibility rests with all Ethiopians,” he said.
The Ethiopian authorities have not yet officially responded to a request for dialogue from the UN secretary general, António Guterres.