Ethiopia’s prime minister stepped up a military offensive in the northern region of Tigray on Sunday with air strikes as part of what he called a “lawenforcement operation,” increasing fears of outright civil warin Africa’s second-most populous country.
A view shows a street in Mekelle, Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. (File photo:Reuters)
Forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which governs the region, are battle-hardened and possess significant stocks of military hardware, experts say.
They and militia allies number up to 250,000 men, according to the International Crisis Group.
One of the biggest risks is that Ethiopia’s army will split along ethnic lines, with Tigrayans defecting to the regional force. There are signs that is already happening, analysts said.
The United Nations raised concerns of reprisals against ethnic Tigrayans amid heightened tension in the diverse country in a confidential report dated Sunday and seen by Reuters.
Addis Ababa Police Commissioner Getu Aregaw said on Sunday that the government had arrested 162 people in possession of firearms and ammunition, on suspicion of supporting the Tigrayan forces.
The suspects were “under investigation”, he said in a statement. He did not identify their ethnicity.
The mayor of the capital, Adanech Abiebie, said on Saturday several TPLF members working in her administration had been arrested on suspicion of planning to disrupt the peace.
As Abiy’s government mobilizes troops to send to Tigray, other parts of the country roiled by ethnic violence could face a security vacuum, analysts say.