Fresh fighting has erupted in Ethiopia’s Afar as the army prepares to launch an offensive.
After a month-long pause, fighting has restarted in northern Ethiopia’s Afar region, according to humanitarian and rebel sources, as the government appears to be launching a new onslaught.
According to humanitarian sources, an armed battle occurred Tuesday in the town of Awra in Afar’s Fenti zone, with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) using heavy weapons and killing many civilians.
Officials in Afar could not be reached for comment, and the reports could not be independently corroborated.
Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the TPLF, denied that the rebels had used heavy weapons against civilians, but stated that new battles had erupted in Afar.
“In portions of Afar, enemy troops are falling and in confusion,” he said, referring to combat near the border between the Afar and Amhara provinces.
“We do not target civilians, and the supposed artillery attack is another another [false]accusation designed to discredit the character of our soldiers.”
For nearly a week, humanitarian and rebel sources have reported signs of a government onslaught in northern Ethiopia, which might usher in a new phase of the 11-month-old conflict.
Although Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office warned this week that the government has “a responsibility to defend its citizens in all sections of the country from any acts of terrorism,” officials have not explicitly confirmed the offensive is underway.
Fighting erupted in the country’s northernmost Tigray area last November after Abiy dispatched troops to depose the TPLF, which had dominated national politics prior to his election in 2018.
The move, according to the 2019 Nobel Peace Laureate, was in response to TPLF attacks on army camps.
The TPLF was quickly driven out of Tigray’s cities and towns by government forces, but by late June, the TPLF had retaken the majority of the territory, including the capital Mekele.
The TPLF marched into the neighboring Afar and Amhara areas in July, claiming it was doing so to prevent government forces from regrouping and to end a “humanitarian blockade” on Tigray, where the UN believes hundreds of people are facing famine-like circumstances.
Abiy’s office said last month that the TPLF had “suffered severe losses” and been “routed” from Afar, while the TPLF claimed that it had simply evacuated forces from the region to focus on other fronts, particularly Amhara.
Since then, Afar, which is home to the only functioning land route through which humanitarian aid can enter Tigray, has been relatively quiet.
The TPLF’s current military goal, according to Getachew, is to “push back the offensive and go as.” The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.