Ethiopia vows to seize airports, other sites in Tigray

A truck, carrying grains to Tigray and belonging to the World Food Programme (WFP), burns out. File picture: Eduardo Soteras/AFP

A truck, carrying grains to Tigray and belonging to the World Food Programme (WFP), burns out. File picture: Eduardo Soteras/AFP

Published Oct 17, 2022


Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - Ethiopia's government on Monday vowed to seize control of airports and other federal facilities in war-torn Tigray, a day after the African Union appealed for a ceasefire to the conflict.

AU Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat called for an immediate and unconditional truce as combat intensified in northern Ethiopia, where pro-government forces and rebels from the Tigray region have been fighting for nearly two years.

Faki also urged the rivals to "recommit to dialogue" after both sides accepted an AU invitation to peace talks that failed to materialise as violence spiralled.

The authorities in Tigray said Sunday they were "ready to abide by an immediate cessation of hostilities" and called on the international community to press the government to come to the table.

Addis Ababa said in a statement Monday it was "committed to the peaceful resolution of the conflict through the AU-led peace talks".

But it said it would pursue this along with "defensive measures" to protect Ethiopia's sovereignty and territorial integrity from internal and external threats.

"It is thus imperative that the Government of Ethiopia assumes immediate control of all airports, other federal facilities, and installations in the region," the statement from the Government Communication Service said.

UN chief Antonio Guterres, the United States and other Western powers have voiced alarm over the worsening violence in Tigray and called for a peaceful settlement to "this catastrophic conflict".

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government and the Tigrayan authorities were to attend AU-led negotiations in South Africa earlier this month but they did not go ahead, with logistical problems cited as one obstacle.

'Deep regret'

Ethiopian forces along with troops from neighbouring Eritrea have meanwhile stepped up an offensive near Shire, a city of 100 000 people in northwestern Tigray, where civilian casualties have been reported in heavy shelling.

US aid chief Samantha Power on Sunday warned "the risk of additional atrocities and loss of life is intensifying" around Shire, and accused Ethiopian and Eritrean forces of indiscriminate attacks.

On Friday, an aid worker from the International Rescue Committee was among three civilians killed in an attack in Shire left others injured.

The IRC staffer was distributing food to "vulnerable" civilians including women and children, said the World Food Programme (WFP), which condemned the targeting of aid personnel.

Britain's minister for Africa, Gillian Keegan, said she was "appalled" by the attack.

"This is the 24th aid worker killed in Tigray since the start of the conflict. Civilians and aid workers must be protected and #NotATarget," Keegan wrote on Twitter.

The Ethiopian government said its army strove to "avoid combat operations within urban areas to prevent civilian casualties" but urged aid workers to "distance themselves from TPLF military assets".

"The Government of Ethiopia deeply regrets any harm that might have been inflicted on civilians, including humanitarian personnel," the GCS said, adding it would investigate such incidents.

Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, sent troops into Tigray in November 2020 after accusing the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) of attacking army camps.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a question and answer session with lawmakers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, November 30, 2020. File picture: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

The TPLF had dominated Ethiopia's ruling political alliance for decades before Abiy took power in 2018.

The ensuing conflict has killed an unknown number of civilians and unleashed a massive humanitarian crisis in Tigray and other parts of northern Ethiopia.