41 Mekele University students were attacked in Adi Mesino on February 18th, while travelling by bus in the Tigray Region. The attack killed at least seven individuals and injured more than ten others, as hospital and university sources have reported. Various eyewitness accounts stated that ‘heavily armed men’ stopped the bus at a roadblock on its route. Unconfirmed reports revealed that ‘two government soldiers escorting the vehicle’ were also among those killed during the attack.
Although no group has yet claimed responsibility for the assault, many have pointed the cite of this conflict on the growing political tensions between the Ethiopian federal government and the regional Tigray ruling coalition, otherwise known as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The political tensions of these two parties, instigated in 2018 from the contested national leadership of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the resistance of regional governance autonomy in Tigray, has had devastating effects on the nation. This bus attack follows violent military confrontations in early November of 2020, which resulted in hundreds of casualties and significant infrastructure destructions.
Showing no signs of stopping, this violent conflict has displaced millions and forced more than 50,000 residents to flee from their homes – a number which the UN expects to grow to about 100,000. A recent UN report outlines dire concerns of ‘inadequate healthcare, malnutrition, bodily injuries, contagious diseases, and severe lack of food or water,’ within refugee camps of Sudan, where thousands of Ethiopian refugees are housed. Health conditions have also been reported to escalate with COVID-19 outbreaks in these overcrowded encampments. Furthermore, this ongoing crisis has left the entire nation economically unstable, as poor power and telecommunications conditions have hindered the operations of businesses and commercial infrastructures. The International Monetary Fund reports that Ethiopia faces plummeting GDP growth projections for months following this ethnic conflict.
Continued restrictions on communication in the Tigray region and a ban on most journalists or humanitarian groups have made it hard to get an accurate picture of the situation. However, the repeated provocations and increasing political turmoil have raised fears of a civil war or other potential war crimes by the allied militia fighters, putting thousands of civilian lives at risk.
This crisis demonstrates an urgent need for a rapid response beyond that of self-regulating means to prevent further spillover into neighbouring countries of the Horn of Africa. Abiy seems to sympathize with these concerns as well, explaining that “ending the suffering in Tigray and around the country is now my highest priority,” but also pledged ‘military campaigns’ to restore the rule of law in the nation at its fullest.
Various international bodies have demonstrated concerns about the ongoing grave human rights violations, but the UN Security Council cites a lack of a ‘unified position’ within its members in responsive approaches. According to their report, African members of the Security Council advocated for a regional approach to resolutions, while Ethiopian officials explained the conflict as an “internal law enforcement operation rather than a civil war, rejecting calls for mediation” — pressing concerns as to whether de-escalation can be adequately achieved.
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