Ethiopia Civil War: Thousands of Soldiers Rally on Highway to Join Front Line in Bloody Conflict

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Ethiopia Civil War: Thousands of Soldiers Rally on Highway to Join Front Line in Bloody Conflict


As we headed north along the A2 highway in Ethiopia, we quickly noticed that the road had turned into an extended parking lot for the country’s military – the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF).

Near the town of Dessie in the Amhara region, we saw dozens of trucks, tanks and armored personnel carriers parked by the side of the road.

Every few kilometers or so, we were stopped by surprised-looking soldiers asking us to produce our papers.

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Government troops gather near the A2 motorway

We were heading to the front line in a nasty civil war between the national government and its partners in Amhara, and the rebel region of Tigray. The two sides massed their forces – and exchanged blows – on the fields and mountain slopes near the highway.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to Tigray last November as he tried to oust the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF) from power. A series of events, culminating in an attack on a number of Federal Army camps, had raised the political temperature to boiling point.

The war took a surprising turn in June when rebel fighters forced Ahmed’s forces to leave the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle. The prime minister declared a unilateral ceasefire, but fighting continued as the TPLF moved south into neighboring Amhara.

Their lead has now been verified, it seems, with members of local militia units telling us that the Tigrayans have made a series of major retreats.

Clearly, the ENDF is preparing for new engagements. We have seen thousands of soldiers use and train on the gravel roads that branch off from the A2.

The majority were men, but some soldiers were women and many looked extremely young. In Amhara, middle and high school students – along with their teachers – were called in last month with explicit instructions to “bury the enemy”.

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Abiy Ahmed sent troops to Tigray last November as he tried to oust the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray from power

Motivation is unlikely to be a problem.

Our guides from a local militia unit led us up the side of a mountain and stopped at a village called Uruga. They said the Tigrayans detained this community for three or four days and cremated the local clinic and its grain mill.

I asked a local farmer why he thought they did it.

“To make us suffer, to make us suffer,” said Seid Gebeze.

“What do you want to happen to the TPLF, the people of Tigray?” I asked.

“Get them eliminated, I personally want them to be eliminated. I want them to be eliminated. How many people have we lost? How many animals have we lost, how many cattle have we lost? My father is dead. I am ready to fight. ”

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Troops prepare new engagements with rebels on the front line

Most of the men in this village are ready to fight, and we found them under an olive tree, holding various weapons.

They call themselves “Shete Lebashoche”, a kind of militia – and a symbol of mass mobilization in Amhara.

Their leader, Jamilu Teferu, told us that they would die for their nation and their land.

“If their intention is to break Ethiopia and put pressure on the Amharans, if that is their mission, it will never work. If the Tigrayans try to deny our identity or claim our land, I say that will never happen. “

Human rights groups say atrocities have become commonplace on both sides of this conflict and call for dialogue and negotiation
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Human rights groups say atrocities have become commonplace on both sides

Locals told us that most of the villagers fled before the TPLF fighters reached Uruga, but the rebels killed a number of the elderly who were unable to escape.

The Tigray Office of Communications Affairs called the allegations in places like Uruga “totally false” and called for an independent investigation.

Human rights groups say atrocities have become commonplace on both sides of this conflict and have called for dialogue and negotiation.

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