Ethiopia’s 12-day old conflict has entered a new front after Tigray forces fired rockets at the airport in Eritrea’s capital Asmara on Saturday evening.
Tigrayan leader Debretsion Gebremichael told reporters that “Fighting is still continuing on several fronts” in Ethiopia as regional diplomats confirmed the cross border attack that saw two of the rockets fired strike Eritrea’s sole international airport.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military offensive in the Tigray region accusing Tigrayan forces of attacking federal troops based in the northern command center. The U.S. State Department and Amnesty International say massacres have taken place and hundreds of civilians have been killed.
The offensive intensified in the following days as Ethiopia air force conducted a number of air strikes in an attempt to destroy military equipment that they say are controlled by the insurgents and could be used to fire at other cities in the country.
So far the country remains divided in ethnic lines. Asmara community that borders Tigray has joined the federal government push and Ethiopia has pulled troops out of neighboring Somalia to maintain the offensive in Tigray.
Tigrayans have maintained accusations that Eritrean armed troops are fighting together with the federal government troops, a surprising turn of events as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was among the Ethiopian fighting force that fought fierce battles during and after Eritrea’s so-called war of independence in the early 1990s.
Tigrayan leader Debretsion said that his forces have been fighting “16 divisions” of the Eritrean army “on several fronts” for the past few days. He did not give an estimate for how many troops he believes Eritrea has deployed.
He said Eritrean forces have crossed into Ethiopia at Badme, Rama and Zalambessa, three border towns in the restive northern region.
“Our country is attacking us with a foreign country, Eritrea. Treason!” he told Reuters in a text message.
Officials in Asmara refute such claims. Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed denied this at the time, saying “We are not part of the conflict.”
Abiy issued a statement on Twitter hours after the allegations by the Tigrayan leader Debretsion that his forces are fighting troops from neighboring Eritrea in addition to Ethiopian troops.
He said that the country is more than capable of achieving the objectives of its military operation in the rebellious state of Tigray “by itself”.
Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a devastating 1998-2000 war. The two countries signed a peace deal two years ago, but Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki’s government remains hostile to the Tigray leadership after their role in that war.
Abiy Ahmed also won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for what the awarding committee said “were his efforts to promote peace and stability in the region.” Much of that euphoria subsided as his government slowed down the democratic transition, arrested opposition leaders and shut down media houses. Ethnic violence has also increased in two years of his rule.
In a wider push against the TPLF, Ethiopia’s parliament stripped 39 members, including Gebremichael, of immunity from prosecution.
The army said transitional rule would be set up in parts of Tigray and urged local forces to surrender.
Police said they had arrested 242 TPLF activists suspected of plotting attacks in Addis Ababa. Weapons including bombs and bullets were also confiscated, the city’s police chief said.
The United Nations refugee agency said on Friday that the fighting in Ethiopia had prompted more than 14,500 people to flee into Sudan so far.