Ethiopian government claims to recapture key cities

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Members of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) are seen on a truck as they transport a 100mm Saeer KS-19 automatic anti-aircraft gun in Shewa Robit, Ethiopia, December 5, 2021.
Amanuel Sileshi / AFP

The Ethiopian government on Monday announced it had recaptured two strategic towns from rebel fighters, the latest in a swift string of battlefield victories claimed by forces loyal to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

The announcement marks another dramatic turn in the 13-month conflict that has killed thousands and sparked a deep humanitarian crisis in the north of Africa’s second most populous nation.

The government communications service said on Twitter that Dessie and Kombolcha had been “freed by the valiant joint security forces” who had also taken control of several other towns on the Eastern Front.

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The two towns, located in the Amhara region on a highway about 400 kilometers (250 miles) by road northeast of the capital Addis Ababa, were reportedly taken by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF) end of October.

Their capture had raised fears that the TPLF and its ally, the Oromo Liberation Army, would march on the capital, leading alarmed foreign governments to urge their citizens to leave the country as soon as possible.

According to Abiy, the state-owned Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation said the rebels suffered “heavy casualties and (were) unable to cope with a strike from Allied forces.”

“The enemy will be hit and the victory will continue,” he said.

Abiy – who won the Nobel Peace Prize two years ago – announced last month that he would go to the front lines following a series of advances claimed by the rebels, as the fighting reportedly rages on at least three fronts.

And for several days last week, the government said the military and its allies had recaptured the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lalibela, which fell to TPLF fighters in August, as well as the town of Shewa Robit which is only 220 kilometers from Addis Ababa. by the road.

TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said on Twitter Monday evening that rebel forces had left towns like Kombolcha and Dessie “as part of our plan.”

TPLF chief Debretsion Gebremichael on Sunday denied the government was winning major victories, saying the rebels were making strategic territorial adjustments and remained undefeated.

“The enemy is getting stronger and stronger, so we must also be strong and step up our struggle,” he said.

Shock return

The government declared a nationwide state of emergency in early November after TPLF fighters claimed responsibility for the capture of Dessie and Kombolcha as they advanced towards the capital.

But the Abiy administration called the TPLF’s gains exaggerated and insisted the city of more than five million people was safe.

Much of northern Ethiopia is under a communications blackout and journalists’ access is restricted, making claims on the battlefield difficult to independently verify.

War erupted in November 2020 when Abiy sent troops to Ethiopia’s northernmost region, Tigray, to topple the TPLF after months of simmering tensions with the group that had dominated politics three decades before. taking office.

He said the move was a response to attacks on army camps by the TPLF and promised an early victory.

But the rebels staged a shock return, retaking most of Tigray in June before advancing into neighboring areas of Amhara and Afar.

The fighting has displaced more than two million people and pushed hundreds of thousands into conditions bordering on starvation, according to UN estimates, with reports of mass killings and rapes by both sides.

But intense diplomatic efforts by the African Union to try to achieve a ceasefire have not resulted in any visible breakthrough.

Risk of “fracture”

Last week, UN Under Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths warned Ethiopia was at risk of falling into sectarian violence that could “fracture” the country if the conflict spread to Addis Ababa.

Earlier Monday, the United States and its Western allies sounded the alarm over reports that the Ethiopian government has illegally detained large numbers of citizens on ethnic grounds and called for arrests “to cease immediately “.

“Many of these acts are likely violations of international law,” Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain, as well as the United States, said in a statement.

“People are being arrested and detained without charge or hearing in court and are said to be held in inhumane conditions. “

The statement cites reports from the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International, which “describe widespread arrests of ethnic Tigrayans”, including the elderly and young children.


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