Tigray crackdown ignites pressure on Addis to initiate peace talks

Monday November 30 2020
Ethiopian refugees.

Ethiopian refugees who fled the fighting in the Tigray region gather upon arrival at a reception centre in Sudan. PHOTO | AFP


Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed says the military crackdown on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front was necessary to protect the country against impunity.

“Failure to do so would nurture a culture of impunity with a devastating cost to the survival of the country," reads a dispatch from the PM’s office said on Friday. Earlier, Mr Abiy had met with African Union Special Envoys former presidents Joachim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa. Mr Abiy told the envoys that the TPLF had consistently violated the laws and had threatened to break up the country. He was meeting the special envoys, 10 days after they were appointed by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the current chairperson of the African Union, “with a view to helping to mediate between the parties to conflict in the sister Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.”

But Addis Ababa has spent the past week pushing back pressure to negotiate with the TPLF, once a member of the ruling party in Ethiopia, but which the federal government now calls a “junta.’’

Despite calls to slow down the assault on Tigrayan capital Mekelle, Mr Abiy told the AU special envoys that he will continue with the operation against the TPLF as a matter of ending impunity in the country. The meeting on Friday suggested there won’t be dialogue or mediation with the TPLF. According to Mr Abiy, Addis Ababa had in fact already established a “multi-party provisional administration of Tigray, in towns and cities under federal command to enable provision of government services.”

He, however, offered dialogue with “civil society and community representatives in the Regional State of Tigray as well as political parties operating legally within the region.” By Thursday, the Ethiopian government had expanded its shuttle diplomacy to contain a publicity stain from the resultant humanitarian crisis.

With the number of refugees fleeing Tigray estimated to have reached 100,000 and at least 1,000 dead by Thursday, the country’s special envoys continued to meet with global leaders seeking support and to isolate the TPLF.


Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen travelled to Europe to argue his country’s case: That the operation is legal, and that Ethiopia will need no external intervention as most “liberated” areas were going back to normalcy.

His hosts, however, were categorical that civilians ought to be safe, and that a military operation will not resolve the underlying issues.

“I made it clear that there should be an immediate end to violence by both sides, civilians who remain in the region must be protected, and I expressed particular concern about the impact on civilians of the planned siege of Tigray’s capital, Mekelle,” Dominic Raab, the UK Foreign Secretary said in a statement on Wednesday.

The conflict in the northern Tigray region began on November 4. On Thursday, Mr Abiy launched what he called the “final phase,” rejecting calls for dialogue, saying they were tantamount to external interference. But he

aid humanitarian agencies would be allowed into Tigray saying his government is “committed to responding to the needs” of the people in Tigray.

Aid and rights agencies have warned that the operation could raise legal and humanitarian problems for Ethiopia. It was being reported that the Ethiopian National Defence Forces and allied security agencies were barring civilians from crossing into Sudan after reports emerged earlier on Tuesday that some of the fighters of the TPLF were fleeing into Sudan as refugees. This saw the number of refugees reaching Sudan drop from an average of 7,000 per day to 700, according to data provided by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“We have received credible intelligence that TPLF operatives have infiltrated refugees fleeing into Sudan to carry out missions of disinformation,” Redwan Hussein, the Spokesperson of the Tigray Emergency Taskforce said on Tuesday. “We caution media entities and international organisations to thoroughly investigate and verify information they receive.” In the EU, Janez Lenarčič, the Commissioner for Crisis Management told Mr Mekonnen there has to be a ceasefire as the entire region will be threatened by the fighting.