Ethiopian govt vows to seize airport, federal sites in Tigray
Tuesday October 18 2022
The Ethiopian government on Monday said it plans to use military means to take control of all airports and other strategic infrastructure in the northern region of Tigray, despite an African Union (AU) appeal at the weekend that called for the immediate cessation of hostilities.
But at the same time, it reiterated its commitment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict through AU-led peace talks.
In a statement, the Ethiopian government said it will take military action on Tigray “to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.”
“It is thus imperative that the Government of Ethiopia assumes immediate control of all airports, other federal facilities, and installations in the region,” said the statement issued by the Ethiopian Communication Service.
“This will enable the government to expedite humanitarian aid to people in need.”
The Ethiopian government further warned civilians and aid workers to stay away from military sites in the region, signalling an escalation in the renewed conflict.
“The Government of Ethiopia reiterates its call for civilians and humanitarian operators to distance themselves from TPLF's military assets,” it said, adding that its army will strive to “avoid combat operations within urban areas to prevent civilian casualties.”
The decision for military action is in stark contrast with the repeated commitments to negotiate with the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) without any pre-conditions.
Last Friday, an aid worker from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) was among three civilians killed in an attack in Shire town, in which several other people were injured.
The IRC staffer was distributing food to vulnerable civilians, said the World Food Program (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 not targeted,” Keegan wrote on Twitter.
In its statement on Monday, the Ethiopian government said it “deeply regrets any harm that might have been inflicted upon civilians, including humanitarian personnel, and will investigate such incidents to establish facts and provide redress when and if such unintended harm occurs.”
Since last week, Ethiopian forces along with troops from neighbouring Eritrea have stepped up heavy shelling on Shire, a city located in northwestern Tigray.
According to sources from the region, the ongoing joint heavy shelling in and around Shire has caused massive civilian casualties and forced aid agencies to halt operations in the area.
US aid chief Samantha Power on Sunday warned that “the risk of additional atrocities and loss of life is intensifying” around Shire, and accused Ethiopian and Eritrean forces of indiscriminate attacks.
On Sunday, the African Union (AU) called for an unconditional cessation of hostilities in northern Ethiopia and urged the warring parties to “recommit” to direct peace talks.
“Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, is following with great concern reports of increased fighting” in Tigray region, said the AU statement.
The AU chief called for an “immediate, unconditional ceasefire” and for the resumption of humanitarian services to Tigray, where majority of the estimated seven million people in the region currently depend on international humanitarian food aid.
“The Chairperson urges the Parties to recommit to dialogue as per their agreement to direct talks to be convened in South Africa by a high-level team led by the AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa, and supported by the international community,” reads part of the released brief statement.
Tigray officials said they welcomed the AU statement but called on the international community to take concrete actions against Eritrea to withdraw its forces from territories of Tigray.
“We are ready to abide by an immediate cessation of hostilities,” said a statement released by Tigray External Affairs Office on Sunday evening.
“We also call on the international community to compel the Eritrean army to withdraw from Tigray, take practical steps towards an immediate cessation of hostilities, and press the Ethiopian Government to come to the negotiating table.”
The Tigray statement accused Ethiopian and Eritrean forces of continued joint attacks “deliberately brutalising civilians”, saying they “are not just a violation of international law but an affront to humanity.”
“Indiscriminate aerial and artillery bombardments targeting civilians are destroying entire towns, villages, and homes.
“The massacres, rapes, displacement and starvation remain below the world's radar screen, but are part of a systematic genocidal campaign.
“The international community has a choice to make: either ensure an immediate cessation of hostilities or help the people of Tigray defend themselves against genocidal onslaught,” the statement from Tigray added.
AU’s latest call for cessation of hostilities comes as the pan-African body struggles to bring the warring sides to the negotiating table.
AU-led peace talks scheduled for October 9 in South Africa were postponed over what diplomatic sources said was due to logistical reasons.
The AU has yet to schedule another meeting between the warring parties.
The ongoing conflict in northern Ethiopia began in November 2019.