“Now is the time for the people of Amhara to crush the terrorist group,” Sema Tiruneh, head of peace and security for the Amhara region, told the state-affiliated Amhara Media Corporation. regional. “Everyone should come forward and stand up for themselves. “ In response, Tigray forces spokesman Getachew Reda told The Associated Press that “we will give you a warm welcome.”
The conflict threatens to destabilize Africa’s second most populous country, where thousands of people have already been killed in the nine months of war.
In a telephone interview, Getachew said Tigray forces had entered the Amhara region and the Afar region in recent weeks in an attempt to break the blockade the Ethiopian government has imposed on Tigray. Hundreds of thousands of people face starvation conditions, and the United Nations and the United States this week sent high-level officials to Ethiopia to urge better access to aid.
“We have to face all those who are still shooting,” Getachew said. “If we have to walk to Addis to silence the guns, we will. But I hope we don’t have to. “
Civilians should not fear, he said in response to allegations by the Amhara ethnic group that Tigray forces carried out attacks. “We are not looking for the territory of Amhara or the people of Amhara. … As long as they don’t shoot our people, we have no problem, ”Getachew said.
Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry has warned that the incursion of Tigray forces into Amhara and Afar “tests the patience of the federal government and pushes it to change its defensive attitude, which has been taken in the name of the unilateral humanitarian ceasefire ”currently in force. The incursions have displaced some 300,000 people, he said.
Ethiopia could “deploy all the defensive capacity of the state” if the openings for a peaceful resolution of the conflict are not reciprocal, according to the statement. The prime minister gave blood to the military this week and urged Ethiopians to do the same, following military recruiting rallies in the capital and elsewhere.
Ethiopia declared a ceasefire at the end of June at an astonishing turning point in the war, as its army withdrew from Tigray and resurgent Tigray forces recaptured key towns and surrendered. in the regional capital, Mekele, to cheers. Conflict erupted in Tigray in November after a falling out between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the ruling Tigray party that had dominated the Ethiopian government for nearly three decades. Since then, thousands of people have been killed.
A new offensive by Amhara regional forces would go against the order of the federal government: “All federal and regional institutions, civil and military are urged to respect the ceasefire,” Ethiopia said in his June statement.
International pressure for a ceasefire
As the United Nations and the United States sound the alarm bells on the Ethiopian government’s near-complete blockade of the Tigray region and its six million inhabitants, Tigray forces have pledged to secure the region and to pursue his “enemies”. They said the prime minister had to go as one of the many preconditions for the talks.
“Personally, I would like him to leave, but it is not for us to overthrow him,” the spokesperson for the Tigray forces said of the prime minister. “We are not interested in occupying the corridors of power in Addis. “
Despite international pressure for an immediate ceasefire from all parties, Getachew said Tigray forces, in talks with partners, rejected the idea of holding “low-key talks” with the Ethiopian government.
“If Abiy wants peace, he must go out in public, he must lift the blockade,” the spokesperson said.
Getachew also confirmed that the objective of Tigray forces in the Afar region is to control a crucial supply line to the rest of Ethiopia from neighboring Djibouti, on a major shipping lane. He called it “part of the game”, saying the people of Tigray are starving.
“This is not to upset other parts of Ethiopia,” he said. “We will cut the supply lines but we will allow civilian supplies. “
In their most visible offensive to date, Tigray forces entered the Amhara town of Lalibela on Thursday, a UNESCO World Heritage site for its rock-hewn churches. While a resident told The Associated Press they had arrived peacefully, Amhara regional spokesman Gizachew Muluneh said on Friday that the “terrorist group” that entered the city was “confused” by the public and the Ethiopian army.
“Several of them have now surrendered,” he added.
The Ethiopian government earlier this year declared the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray, or TPLF, a terrorist group instead of a political party.
UNESCO on Friday expressed concern over the spread of the conflict in Lalibela.
“We don’t have first-hand information about the actual damage done,” UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters.
“There is serious suffering in Tigray”
The conflict has strained the lives of millions of Ethiopians, and more and more Ethiopians now fear it will affect them.
“There is serious suffering in Tigray. [The Tigray forces] had the opportunity to stop the military offensive, ”said Tewodrose Tirfe, of the Amhara Association of America. “Instead, they kept pushing.
Ethiopia’s prime minister reiterated his commitment to the unilateral ceasefire just days ago, UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths told reporters on Friday after meeting with Abiy.
“I have no reason to doubt it at all,” Griffiths said.
But regional forces promising a new offensive could be another matter.
As Tigray’s forces advance, they have become the focus of growing UN and US warnings amid calls for an immediate ceasefire and unconditional peace talks.