Tigray military bombs neighbouring airports as Ethiopia conflict spreads

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Ethiopia’s defiant Tigray regional government has fired rockets at two airports in the neighbouring Amhara region as a deadly conflict threatens to spread into other parts of Africa’s second most populous country.

The Tigray regional government said such strikes will continue “unless the attacks against us stop”.

The federal government said the airports in Gondar and Bahir Dar were damaged in the strikes late on Friday, saying Tigray’s regional forces are “repairing and utilising the last of the weaponry within its arsenals”.

The deadly fighting that erupted in the northern Tigray region on November 4 has reportedly killed hundreds on both sides, sent more than 17,000 refugees fleeing into neighbouring Sudan and raised international alarm about a possible civil war at the heart of the Horn of Africa.

Map locates the Tigray area

The Tigray regional government, which once dominated the country’s ruling coalition, broke away last year and the federal government says its ruling “clique” must be arrested and their well-stocked arsenal destroyed.

Fears of ethnic targeting are rising. The Tigray regional government, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, in a statement denied allegations that scores or even hundreds of civilians were hacked to death on Monday in the regional town of Mai-Kadra.

The massacre was confirmed by Amnesty International, which cited a man helping to clear away bodies as saying many of the dead were ethnic Amharas.

The statement by Tigray regional president Debretsion Gebremichael said the allegations against the TPLF forces, repeated by Mr Abiy, are “being proliferated with the intent to incite hatred toward (ethnic) Tigrayans in Ethiopia”.

Ethiopia Military Confrontation
Abiy Ahmed, centre (AP)

It has visited 43 people in police custody in the capital, Addis Ababa, and said “some of the detained have reported that they have been arrested only because of their ethnicity”.

The international community is warning against deadly ethnic tensions. The UN office for genocide prevention has condemned reports of “targeted attacks against civilians based on their ethnicity or religion”, warning that the rhetoric sets a “dangerous trajectory that heightens the risk of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”.

Communications and transport links with the northern Tigray region remain severed, making it difficult to verify claims on both sides of the fighting. Desperate families cannot reach relatives, and the UN and other humanitarian organisations warn of disaster as food, fuel and other supplies run short for millions of people.

A senior TPLF official appeared to confirm the federal government’s claim that TPLF forces sparked the conflict by attacking a military base. Sekoutoure Getachew in a video discussion said pre-emptive strikes were carried out in self-defence against the Ethiopian army’s Northern Command, calling it an “internationally known practice”.

There is no sign of any easing in the fighting. Mr Abiy has rejected growing calls by the US and others for an immediate de-escalation.

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