On Saturday the 28 November, Ethiopian military leaders stated they now have “full control” of the capital of the Tigray region, Mekelle. The announcement comes after the Tigray government reported the area was being “heavily bombarded” as the military pushed deeper into the region seeking the arrest of the region’s rebel leaders.
This potential turning point in a conflict that began at the start of November has been seen by the Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed to “complete” his campaign against the Tigrayan rebels. The prime minister’s certainty was perhaps marred, as several rockets fired from the Tigrayan region were reported to have landed within allied Eritrea and unverified claims the TPLF had shot down an Ethiopian military plane.
This recent announcement from the government has gained mixed responses. It has been celebrated widely within Ethiopian Government circles. “Praise God for his mercy upon us. Thanks to the Almighty God our creator. Amen. Let peace prevail in Ethiopia!!!” former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn tweeted on Saturday evening. This celebration was not shared internationally, however. Capturing the Tigray capital “does not mean the conflict is finished,” the U.N. refugee chief said on Sunday. He also went on to raise concerns about the fate of roughly 100,000 Eritrean refugees within the region amid reports that some have been abducted. Filippo Grande said if such events were happening it “would be major violations of international norms. It is my strong appeal for the prime minister of Ethiopia for this situation to be addressed as a matter of urgency.” Dominic Raab, the UK Foreign Secretary also said on Saturday he was “very concerned about reports of fighting in Mekelle” and of the most recent rocket attacks in neighbouring Eritrea.
There have been scathing outcries from international governments and humanitarian organizations since the conflict began on November 4, concerning the unquantifiable ongoing humanitarian crisis. The Tigray region in the north of the country, led by the TPLF, has had nearly all of its links severed from the rest of the world since the Ethiopian military has perused what Abiy Ahmed has termed, “a law enforcement operation,” despite using heavy artillery and airstrikes. Humanitarian agencies, such as the UN and Red Cross have been unable to administer aid, deliver supplies or even assess the scale of the situation within the area. It is unknown how many people have died in the conflict so far, but estimates range from hundreds to thousands.
It seems that Prime Minister Ahmed’s victory speech is worryingly premature. Not for the legitimacy of the current Ethiopian government, but the thousands of refugees caught in the crossfire. It remains likely that this conflict will develop into guerrilla warfare by the TPLF, potentially drawing the conflict out for several months, if not years. Within this Guerrilla conflict, civilians will inevitably be caught in the crossfire as fighting will likely be most prominent in civilian areas. Before further potential violence ensues, both the TPLF and Ethiopian government should recognize that the protection of civilians in this conflict is paramount and employ necessary measures to ensure civilian safety, including stopping indiscriminate bombardments, putting military facilities near civilian areas and targeting civilian facilities. Both sides should also grant unobstructed access to humanitarian organizations that can provide aid and supplies for those in need and restore communication channels to ensure transparency by both groups.
While the exact situation within the country remains blurred due to a lack of information, a clearer picture is forming of a conflict that does not appear to be dissipating anytime soon. Time will now tell the future impact on the Tigrayan population.