REGIONAL REPORT

Ethiopian refugees flee to Sudan as conflict escalates

There are also reports of crackdown on the media, with at least four journalists arrested.

In Summary

• Fighting, including airstrikes, is ongoing between Ethiopian federal forces and Tigray People’s Liberation Front after an incursion into the northern region.

• The offensive was a retaliation for an attack on one of Ethiopian army camps in the region.

New war in Ethiopia: The Abiy factor
New war in Ethiopia: The Abiy factor
Image: OZONE

Thousands of civilians fleeing fighting between Ethiopian federal forces and Tigray People’s Liberation Front are migrating to Sudan to seek refuge. 

Al Jazeera reported Tuesday that thousands of Ethiopians had fled the Tigray region where airstrikes had been ordered by Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. 

“At least 2,500 refugees were counted in the past two days, but hundreds more civilians arriving were yet to be processed by authorities,” lsir Khaled, head of Sudan’s refugee agency in the eastern border town of Kassala, told Al Jazeera.

 

Sudanese state media on Wednesday said more than 8,000 Ethiopians had crossed into Sudan within 48 hours.

Abiy has adopted a hardline stance over the country’s political crisis and the conflict is already spilling over to the neighbouring states.

The offensive was a retaliation for an attack on one of the Ethiopian army camps in the northern Tigray region.

Prime Minister Abiy has blamed TPLF for the raid but its leadership has denied involvement. Casualties have been reported on both sides. 

 

On Tuesday, Abiy said the“law enforcement operations” in Tigray were proceeding as planned and will cease as soon as “the criminal junta is disarmed, legitimate administration in the region restored and fugitives apprehended and brought to justice — all of them rapidly coming within reach”.

The remarks came despite AU Commission chairman Moussa Faki calling for the immediate cessation of hostilities.

In a statement on Tuesday, Faki said he is concerned by the escalation of the military confrontation in Ethiopia and urged the parties to engage in dialogue to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the country.

 

Faki asked the parties in the crisis to respect human rights and ensure the protection of civilians.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development has also expressed its concern over the situation in the country.

In a statement on November 7, Igad called on the parties to show restraint and work on deescalating the tensions. 

Igad called on the Tigray leadership and that of Ethiopia federal government to resolve their differences through dialogue and reconciliation.

 

The authority's executive secretary Workneh Gebeyehu is an Ethiopian and worked as a minister for Foreign Affairs between 2016-2019.

Abiy will hear none of the calls by international actors.

His government, he said, will only dialogue with the Tigray region once all its military equipment has been destroyed and key members of its leadership brought to justice.

“There will be dialogue, that’s inevitable, but the question is when. When is when these objectives are met, once we destroy these armaments,” Redwan Hussein, the spokesperson for the newly established State of Emergency task force, told reporters in Addis Ababa, on Tuesday.

Abiy followed it up with a tweet, “I want to assure you Ethiopians that there will be no negotiations with this junta until the end of our rule of law.”

The federal authorities on Wednesday said their forces had killed at least 550 Tigrayan fighters.

Rashid Abdi, who analyses the Horn of Africa region, said families are being divided. He claimed Tigrayans in Addis are being isolated and taken to an internment camp.

There are also reports of a crackdown on the media, with at least four journalists arrested.

Ethiopia Human Rights Commissioner Daniel Bekele on Wednesday said he was concerned with the arrest of more journalists, “with EPA’s (Ethiopian Press Agency) Haftu Gebregzhiabher, Tsegaye Hadush, and Abreha Hagos, as well as OMN’s (Oromia Media Network) Udi Mussa detained overnight.”

Historian and independent journalist Gwyne Dyer warns it could be a long war, because “Tigrayans are over-represented in the armed forces and much of the army’s heavy weapons and equipment, which were based in Tigray because of the border war with Eritrea.”

“The very last thing it [Ethiopia] needs is yet another civil war, which in current circumstances could also lead to other regions trying to secede,” Dyer writes.