Tigray crisis: Ethiopia orders military response after army base seized


Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has ordered a military offensive, after an army base was taken over by forces loyal to the regional government of Tigray.

Mr Abiy accused the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of launching the attack.

The attack resulted in “many martyrs, injuries and property damage”, he said in a TV address.

The cabinet has declared a state of emergency in the region for six months.

“This situation has reached a level where it cannot be prevented and controlled through the regular law enforcement mechanisms,” a statement from the prime minister’s office said.

The national authorities have also shut down electricity, telephone and internet services in Tigray.

Tensions between the government and TPLF, which used to be part of the governing coalition before falling out with Mr Abiy, have escalated in recent months, with both sides accusing the other of plotting to use military force.

On Tuesday, the federal parliament proposed that the TPLF be designated as a “terrorist organisation.”

Mr Abiy said that attackers “tried to loot” military assets during Wednesday morning’s attack, adding that “the last red line had been crossed” forcing the federal government into a military confrontation.

Mr Abiy’s office also accused the TPLF of dressing its soldiers in uniforms resembling those of the army of neighbouring Eritrea to “implicate the Eritrean government in false claims of aggression against the people of Tigray”.

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“The national defence force that has been in the bunkers for the past 20 plus years defending its people and the country by paying heavy sacrifices with its blood and flesh, has been attacked, this evening in Mekelle and many other places, by traitors and the force they organised,” Mr Abiy said in a TV address.

“The army has been attacked from behind by its own citizens and many have been martyred, wounded and properties destroyed,” he added.

Details of the attack could not be immediately verified.

The BBC has spoken to eyewitnesses who have confirmed that the Northern Command Headquarters in Tigray’s regional capital, Mekelle, is under the control of regional forces.

BBC Tigrinya’s Girmay Gebru reports that sounds of gunfire could be heard early on Wednesday morning but calm has since returned.

People were walking around the city but passenger vehicles are not operating because local authorities have imposed restrictions on movement and they have also closed the airspace, our reporter adds.

Banks and the only local office of state-owned Ethio Telecom – the country’s only mobile phone company – have been closed. The national carrier Ethiopian Airlines has also stopped flights to the region.

It’s unclear how the federal government will implement the state of emergency it has declared because regional leaders are in charge, our reporter says, adding that Tigray forces have been deployed to the border it shares with Amhara region.

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