The war between the Ethiopian government and Tigray rebels, which intensified in the past months, is now threatening to descend of the capital of Addis Ababa - resulting in authorities declaring a state of emergency, and with the US Embassy beginning to initiate non-essential staff departures. The US State Department has further warned all US citizens to evacuate the country immediately.
"Our country is facing a grave danger to its existence, sovereignty and unity. And we can’t dispel this danger through the usual law enforcement systems and procedures," Justice Minister Gedion Timothewos said Tuesday in announcing the six month state of emergency which essentially imposes martial law on the population. The government has also called on all residents in Addis Ababa to prepare to defend their neighborhoods ahead of a potential rebel assault, which is looking imminent.
"Residents can gather in their locality and safeguard their surroundings. Those who have weapons but can't take part in safeguarding their surroundings are advised to hand over their weapons to the government or their close relatives or friends," an emergency government announcement stated. Government authorities are now in the process of overseeing the registration of citizens' private arms in preparation for a possible breach of the city.
While up to now the fighting has been concentrated in the country's northern Tigray region, especially since a national army offensive against the breakaway ethnic enclave in November 2020, this is the first time the sprawling capital city of about five million could be thrown into turmoil.
After the rebel group Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) captured the key towns of Dessie and Kombolcha this week, which lie 250 miles from the capital, the fighters have been reportedly making a rapid advance southward toward the seat of the national government.
Some rebel commanders are now claiming to have forces positioned a mere 15 miles from the center of Addis Ababa, though this hasn't been confirmed on the ground, CNN reports. The war which has been intensifying and ongoing for the past year has been largely stalemated, and has included allegations of horrific human rights abuses by both sides in the Tigray region.
Ethiopia update— Reuters Africa (@ReutersAfrica) November 4, 2021
-U.S. permits voluntary departure of some embassy staff, family
-East African bloc, EU add to chorus of ceasefire calls
-Six-month state of emergency declared on Tuesday
-Tigrayan forces threaten advance on capital
-Conflict has killed thousands pic.twitter.com/b7cpj14alI
UN General-Secretary António Guterres and Western leaders have urged an immediate ceasefire, and on Thursday US Special Envoy for Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman is en route to Ethiopia in an attempt to broker an agreed halt in fighting. So far the conflict has killed many thousands, but the war coming to the densely populated capital would result in the country's unraveling.
On Wednesday Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed vowed in a televised state broadcast to bury his government's enemies "with our blood", Reuters reported. The chilling message was advanced via official social media channels as well, with Facebook announcing that it promptly deleted the post as it was an incitement to violence.
Since taking power in 2018, Abiy Ahmed was initially celebrated in the West as a unifier, reformer and human rights champion. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2019 for making peace with neighboring Eritrea after two decades of war; however, the current crisis has earned him widespread criticism and condemnation for the ruthlessness with which government forces have sought to stamp out the ethnic minority Tigray rebellion. Ironically it was his peace treaty with Eritrea that helped inflame the anger of Tigrayans - who are concentrated on the northern Eritrean border - with the national government.
We strongly suggest that U.S. citizens seriously reconsider travel to Ethiopia and those who are currently in Ethiopia consider making preparations to leave the country. 2/2 https://t.co/eOeMI9qDIF— U.S. Embassy Addis (@USEmbassyAddis) November 3, 2021
Earlier this week President Biden slammed the Ethiopian government's "gross violations of internationally recognized human rights" and cut the country from a key US trade program, the African Growth and Opportunity Act - which gave it duty-free access to US goods. The move is seen as paving the way for further and more far-reaching sanctions, which would likely target top Ethiopian officials who are overseeing the war.
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A brief BBC review of the origins of the conflict is as follows:
"The conflict started on 4 November, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offensive against regional forces in Tigray. He said he did so in response to an attack on a military base housing government troops there.
The escalation came after months of feuding between Mr Abiy's government and leaders of Tigray's dominant political party. For almost three decades, the party was at the centre of power, before it was sidelined by Mr Abiy, who took office in 2018 after anti-government protests.
Mr Abiy pursued reforms, but when Tigray resisted, the political crisis erupted into war."
Tigray area of northern Ethiopia. Map: Associated Press