Tigray group says Eritrea and Ethiopia have begun joint military offensive

Eritrea joining the conflict would signal an escalation in hostilities in Tigray

An abandoned tank south of the town of Mehoni, Ethiopia, in December 2020. Ethiopian and Eritrean forces reportedly launched a joint offensive against the Tigray People's Liberation Front in the northern region of Tigray on September 1, 2022. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Ethiopian and Eritrean forces began an offensive in four areas in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, a senior member of the dissident Tigray People’s Liberation Front said, the latest indication that a truce in the civil war in the Horn of Africa country is unravelling.

The attacks started early on Thursday morning in north-western Tigray, Getachew Reda said on Twitter. Ethiopia and Eritrea are “co-ordinating their efforts to turn this into a regional conflagration. We are ready to defend ourselves,” he said.

Eritrea joining the conflict would signal an escalation in hostilities in Tigray, a week after clashes erupted after a five-month humanitarian ceasefire. Last week, Ethiopia’s air force said it shot down a plane ferrying weapons that crossed the border from neighbouring Sudan, whose government is at odds with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration over Ethiopia’s construction of a huge hydropower dam.

The resumption of fighting will hamper efforts by Ethiopia’s government to improve relations with international financiers, as it awaits an International Monetary Fund loan as part of efforts to revamp its debt.

Yields on Ethiopia’s $1 billion in Eurobonds due in 2024 have surged more than 500 basis points since the conflict resumed on August 24. The yield was at 38.03 per cent by 2:38pm in London on Thursday.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen told diplomats in the capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday that the government had taken measures against rebel Tigray forces with “utmost care to avoid civilian casualties”.

The “TPLF has been violating the spirit of the humanitarian truce through hostile rhetoric, recruiting child soldiers, and engaging in public mobilisation planning for yet another round of hostilities”, he said in a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Ethiopian government’s communication service also released a statement accusing the Tigrayans of launching attacks “from all directions” and killing innocent civilians. It did not specifically address reports of Eritrea entering the conflict.

Eritrea is a longtime foe of the TPLF, which effectively ruled Ethiopia from 1991 until 2018. The two nations went to war in 1998 over a border dispute. That conflict officially ended in 2018, when Mr Abiy came to office and signed a peace deal with Eritrea, and won the Nobel Peace Prize as a result.

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki then backed Ethiopia when Mr Abiy ordered an incursion into Tigray after TPLF forces attacked a federal army base.

The US on Thursday called for an immediate end to the latest hostilities.

“We remain deeply concerned at the resumption of fighting and the lives that it puts at risk,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Mr Getachew said heavy artillery is being used around Shiraro town close to Eritrea’s border. The area flanks Western Tigray, a flat region of fertile farmland bordering Sudan that was seized by forces from Ethiopia’s Amhara region and Eritrea soon after the civil war began in November 2020.

Tigray forces have insisted Western Tigray be given back to the region before peace talks can commence with Mr Abiy’s government. Taking control of the town of Humera on the border with Sudan is also considered highly strategic by the Tigrayans because it can open up supply corridors and allows them to potentially launch their own offensive on Eritrea.

Updated: September 02, 2022, 6:43 AM