Ethiopia's PM Abiy orders military to confront Tigray region after 'red line' crossed

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Ethiopia’s prime minister has ordered the military to confront a regional government after he says it attacked a military base overnight, citing months of “provocation and incitement” and declaring that “the last red line has been crossed.”

The statement by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office Wednesday morning, and the reported attack, immediately raised concerns that one of Africa’s most populous and powerful countries could plunge back into war.


The Tigray People’s Liberation Front had played a major role in Ethiopia’s governing coalition before Abiy took office in 2018 and announced sweeping political reforms.

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The TPLF has shown increasing signs of discontent, and in September people voted in the northern Tigray region in a local election, defying the federal government and increasing political tensions. Tigray officials warned at the time that an intervention by the federal government would amount to a “declaration of war.”

Tigray officials have objected to the postponement of Ethiopia’s national election, once set for August, because of the coronavirus pandemic and the extension of Abiy’s time in office.

Abiy’s statement asserts that the TPLF attacked a military base in Tigray in the early hours Wednesday and attempted to take artillery and other equipment. The statement accused the TPLF of arming and organizing irregular militias in the past few weeks.

The attack “has been premised on TPLF viewing the Ethiopian National Defense Forces as a foreign army,” the statement says.

The prime minister’s statement adds that after months of “extreme patience” by the federal government, “a war however cannot be prevented only on the goodwill and decision of one side. ... The last red line has been crossed with this morning’s attacks and the federal government is therefore forced into a military confrontation.”

A member of Tigray police is pictured at a checkpoint in the outskirts of Mekele on the day of Tigray's regional elections, on September 9, 2020. (AFP)
A member of Tigray police is pictured at a checkpoint in the outskirts of Mekele on the day of Tigray's regional elections, on September 9, 2020. (AFP)

Build up of tensions

Last week, regional representatives blocked a brigadier general sent by Abiy from taking up a post in the region.

The military officer flew on October 29 from the capital Addis Ababa to Tigray for his new assignment but returned after being informed “his appointment would not be considered legitimate”, said Getachew Reda, a senior official with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the regional ruling party.

“Any appointment or troop movement” is “totally unacceptable” at the moment because the TPLF believes Abiy no longer has a mandate for such moves, Getachew told AFP.

Read more: Ethiopia’s Tigray region blocks PM Abiy’s appointment of general in ongoing row

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