An airstrike launched by the Ethiopian military has struck the northern parts of Tigray, announced Reuters on Sunday. This was the second attack in just a day, and a clear sign that the government’s nearly two-week-long campaign against the region—and the rebellious forces controlling it—is not about to cease. Instead, it seems to be intensifying.
Sunday’s second strike marks the eighth bombardment in a week. This first, according to government spokesperson Legesse Tulu, hit the western Tigray area of Mai Tsebri. The attack was intended to target a training camp for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a paramilitary group and former ruling party. The second hit the town of Adwa in northern Tigray.
It is unclear, however, whether either strike hit its mark. Although Legesse confirmed the strike’s success—a statement backed by a Facebook post issued by the government’s communications service, stated that a TPLF-run weapons manufacturing facility in Adwa had been “destroyed”—it has been impossible to verify these claims due to the communications blackout in Tigray.
Indeed, according to TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda, the government has unloaded its arsenal on a non-existent target. “The government makes it sound as though all of the Tigray region is a training centre. This doesn’t make any sense, we don’t have any training centres.”
Reda did confirm, however, that the first attack in Mai Tsebri had struck a local hospital. To his knowledge, no casualties have been reported.
It has been nearly a year since tensions between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the TPLF hit a breaking point. Since the war erupted last November, thousands have been killed and over two million have been forced to flee. Although he declared a ceasefire in June, the death toll has continued to rise as rebel forces push out of Tigray in an attempt to expand their influence. The government still has Tigray under a communications blackout—a move condemned by the U.N. as a “defacto humanitarian blockade” on approximately six million people.
Abiy Ahmed is Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, 2019 Nobel Peace Prize recipient and formerly a favourite of the international, peace-loving community. His appointment in 2018 was a period marked by reform: he released thousands of political prisoners, ended the silencing of independent journalists and invited opposition groups previously exiled back into the country. He achieved a peace deal ending a 20 year-long stalemate with Eritrea, resulting in the reopening of the two countries’ shared border.
But the violence still simmered beneath the country’s surface. Ethnic divisions, kept suppressed by years of authoritarian rule, quickly started to make themselves known through increasingly frequent assassinations of prominent individuals. The army’s chief of staff, along with the leader of the second largest region in the country, were killed in one night. To stem the violence, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed returned to the desperate tactics of his predecessors, cutting off basic services including internet and phone lines and arresting and incarcerating suspects without trial. The TPLF sensed the government’s receding control and withdrew to Tigray. Today, the war between the two could be described as a “law enforcement operation” but the rising human rights violations, extra-judicial killing, mass rape incidents, and tactical starvation have prompted Western powers to speak out in opposition.
The situation in Tigray has not ameliorated. On Friday, an air strike in Mekelle forced a U.N. flight carrying 11 crucial humanitarian personnel to the region to turn back to the capital. The U.N. has since announced its decision to suspend its bi-weekly flights to Tigray.
With phone lines down and the internet inaccessible, it is difficult for civilians to seek medical help or receive key information pertaining to their safety. It is hard for humanitarian workers, journalists and human rights groups to make the necessary decisions surrounding security, to give direct help to civilians in need or even to report on the continuing violations.
Furthermore, responses from influential international bodies have thus far been mixed, often slow. Although the U.S., the E.U. and the U.K. have made efforts to investigate abuses and provide aid, the U.N. Human Rights Council only added Tigray to its agenda in mid-July, according to Human Rights Watch. These bodies need to move from condemnation to action. They need to push U.N.-led investigations to enable the prosecution of those responsible for the violations, whilst the imposition of an arms embargo might help to curb the continuing violence.