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Ethiopia signals escalation in war with plan to seize airports

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Ethiopia said it plans to seize airports and other federal facilities in the northern Tigray region, signalling fighting will intensify after the US and African Union appealed for a cease-fire.

The Ethiopian authorities also warned civilians and humanitarian groups to stay away from military assets controlled by the dissident Tigray People’s Liberation Front, according to a statement posted on the Government Communication Service’s Twitter account on Monday. The measures are necessary because of repeated attacks by the TPLF and its “active collusion” with unidentified foreign powers, it said.

“It is thus imperative that the government of Ethiopia assumes immediate control of all airports, other federal facilities and installations in the region,” the government said. “This is necessary to protect Ethiopia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The conflict in Tigray has escalated since the resumption of hostilities in August ended a five-month humanitarian cease-fire. The war has pitted Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal forces against rebels loyal to the TPLF. Neighbouring Eritrea has backed Abiy since the violence first erupted in November 2020, while the fighting has also spilled over into Sudan, where thousands of refugees have fled the fighting.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the weekend urged “the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea to cease their joint offensive and on Tigrayan authorities to cease provocative actions.”

“It is time for the government of Ethiopia and Tigray regional authorities to pursue peace,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

Air Strikes
In recent weeks, air strikes and drones have hit civilian targets. Peace talks scheduled to take place on Oct. 8 in South Africa have been put on hold indefinitely.

African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat echoed the appeal, calling for an “immediate, unconditional cease-fire and the resumption of humanitarian services.”

Fighting has been particularly intense around Shire in northwestern Tigray, where the United Nations World Food Programme confirmed on Saturday that an air strike hit International Rescue Committee workers distributing food. One staffer died along with two other civilians.

“We are ready to abide by an immediate cessation of hostilities,” the Tigray regional government said in a statement Sunday. “We also call on the international community to compel the Eritrean army to withdraw from Tigray.”

Ethiopia’s government said it remains “committed to the peaceful resolution of the conflict” through African Union-led peace talks.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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