The burgeoning civil war in Ethiopia between the government in Addis Ababa and liberation forces from the Tigray region is becoming Internationalised as the conflict escalates.
After thousands refugees spilled over into Sudan, Tigray forces launched an attack on neighbouring Eritrea. The conflict that broke out a fortnight ago looks like it could destabilise the entire Horn of Africa and draw in outside actors.
On Sunday, the UN refugee agency reported that more than 20,000 people have crossed into Sudan from Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, where federal government troops are battling forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the party of the regional government.
TPLF leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, said on Sunday that his forces had fired rockets into neighbouring Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, while claiming that 16 Eritrean military divisions are fighting alongside the Ethiopian government troops against the TPLF forces – an assertion that both the governments in Addis Ababa and Asmara have denied.
“This takes the conflict to a whole new level,” said Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from the Ethiopian city of Gondar. “It has spilled across the borders of Ethiopia, and now another country, Eritrea, is about to be sucked in.”
Debretsion and the TPLF are making clear that their attacks were retaliatory and that they will continue until the Ethiopian government and outside forces cease their attempts to invade the region, which is fighting for some degree of sovereignty.
“Those who attack Tigray will not just attack and return home. We will retaliate while they are here, and strike the airports from which they launched attacks,” said Debretsion. “There is no place that we can’t reach and we will continue to attack selected targets that the invading forces are using against us.”
The attacks on Eritrea will bring back difficult memories of an existing rift between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which was only recently been brought to an end, with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed winning the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his deal to end decades of hostilities between the two nations in 2018. However, there is still animosity between Eritrean and TPLF forces, with the latter playing a massive role in the 1998-2000 border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
One of the leading concerns at this stage, however, is whether Prime Minster Abiy calls upon the UAE for military aid in the form of drone strikes, which would turn the conflict into a bona fide geopolitical crisis.
@AbiyAhmedAli is now enlisting the support of #UAE drones based in Assab in his devastating war against the people of #Tigray. In the meantime, Tigray Defense Forces have targetted facilities in Eritrea including the Asmara airport that are being used to stage attacks on Tigray.
— Getachew K Reda (@reda_getachew) November 15, 2020
Aside from the Eritrean conflict, the conflict between Ethiopia and Tigray has also extended to the West, where thousands of Ethiopians, roughly half of which are children, are fleeing into neighbouring Sudan.
“Many people are coming without anything. They don’t have any means of actually surviving so we have to take care of them,” said Axel Bisschop, UN High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Sudan, describing an “urgent” situation that required international attention to address the growing needs for food and purified water.
📢 On Saturday, the numbers of refugees crossing into Sudan from #Ethiopia 𝘀𝘂𝗿𝗽𝗮𝘀𝘀𝗲𝗱 𝟮𝟬,𝟬𝟬𝟬.
Medical staff from clinics in Tigray assist other refugees 🩺 Sudanese communities provide food and tents 🍲 while UNHCR & partners are ramping up support 🏃 pic.twitter.com/82BV1uEgHk
— UNHCR in Sudan (@UNHCRinSudan) November 15, 2020
Sudan is expecting an influx of as many as 200,000 refugees over the course of the next week.