The African Union on Tuesday implored the Ethiopian government to go slow on bombarding the troubled Tigray region, even as Addis Ababa insisted the situation was an internal matter.
On the same day Ethiopia said it had seized a local airport in Tigray, African Union chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat said the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed should abandon a military crackdown on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, to protect civilians.
Mr Faki said the continental body is “concerned” about the escalation of tensions between the Ethiopian government and the regional administration in Tigray, currently under the TPLF.
“The chairperson appeals for the immediate cessation of hostilities and calls on parties to respect human rights and ensure the protection of civilians,” his office said on Tuesday.
“He further urges the parties to engage in dialogue to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the country.”
In a measured statement, however, the AU reaffirms a “firm attachment to the constitutional order, territorial integrity, unity and national sovereignty of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to ensure stability in the country and in the Region”.
The AU, headquartered in Addis Ababa, offered to support what it called an inter-Ethiopian effort to pursue peace and stability.
But Dr Abiy appeared to reject the offer. In a statement on his Twitter page, he said the crackdown on errant TPLF members will go on as scheduled.
“Our law enforcement operations in Tigray are proceeding as planned: operations will cease as soon as the criminal junta is disarmed, legitimate administration in the region restored, and fugitives apprehended and brought to justice — all of them rapidly coming within reach,” he said.
Diplomats have mounted pressure on Ethiopia, one of the most stable countries a troubled neighbourhood in the Horn of Africa, to lay down arms and choose dialogue. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) also weighed in with a call for dialogue.
But Dr Abiy said his administration has run out of patience after the TPLF continually violated local laws.
Last week, Abiy said the TPLF attacked a military camp run by the Ethiopian National Defence Forces and “attempted to rob” artillery.
TPLF denied this charge but Addis Ababa went on to declare a state of emergency and followed it with a military bombardment of the northern federal region.
In a statement posted on their Facebook page, the TPLF accused Addis Ababa of “ethnic cleansing on the people of Tigray".
“We will soon remove the fascist Abiy regime for once and for all,” TPLF stated.
Following Ethiopia's launch of airstrikes on the military installations of the TPLF, the group claims all 10 of them so far “have missed targets”.
Addis Ababa has since restricted public transportation and internet service to the region.
On Monday, Abiy said the international community should not exaggerate fears of potential chaos coming out of the crackdown.
“Concerns that Ethiopia will descend into chaos are unfounded and a result of not understanding our context deeply,” he said on Monday.
“Our rule of law enforcement operation, as a sovereign State with the capacity to manage its own internal affairs, will wrap up soon by ending the prevailing impunity.”
However, some experts have warned that the conflict has the potential to rope in neighbouring regions in Ethiopia and even Eritrea, which shares some ethnic similarities with Ethiopia.
The TPLF, founded by former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, ruled Ethiopia for more than two decades and was part of a coalition known as the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front.
Last December, TPLF refused to dissolve and join the new Prosperity Party (PP) formed by Abiy for a centralised policy of the ruling government.
The group also went ahead to hold local elections when the entire country had postponed the exercise due to the Covid pandemic. TPLF won all the seats on the regional assembly. Addis Ababa has refused to recognise the administration.
Abiy also accuses the group of operating with impunity, stealing public funds during its reign in power, committing atrocities, rejecting court orders issued by the federal judiciary, hiring child soldiers and frustrating the operations of the Ethiopian National Defense Force.
Writing in the East African last week, Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for the East and Southern Africa region, said Ethiopia will remain vulnerable to violence unless it addresses past injustices, including those committed by TPLF while in power.
“Until Ethiopia deals with past atrocities and grievances - through justice for every era and every region – the country will remain susceptible to incidents sparking much bigger violence,” he argued.
“Along with security sector reform, justice cultivates respect for rule of law it builds national confidence and unleashes the country’s potential for inclusive and just development, at a time when the African continent needs to look within for examples and for inspiration.