Ethiopia marks the one-year anniversary of brutal fighting between coalition government forces and regional Amhara militiamen with Eritrean forces against rebels in the northern Tigre region on Thursday. Now, Tigreyan forces say they are advancing on the capital, Addis Ababa, and that could collapse in months or even weeks.
In recent weeks, the Tigreyan force and the Oromo Regional Force have joined the fight against the central government and claim to have made significant progress.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed vowed that his government would remain in place.
“Ethiopia will not collapse. Ethiopia will prosper,” Abiy said while speaking in Addis Ababa on Wednesday. “Ethiopia will forever exist with the honor of defeating all who tempted her through the blood and bones of her children.”
The Ethiopian government on Wednesday declared a six-month state of emergency and called on residents to protect their neighborhoods when rebels arrive in the capital. “Our country is facing a grave threat to its existence, sovereignty and unity. And we cannot address this threat through normal law enforcement systems and procedures,” Justice Minister Gedion Timothevos said during a state media briefing.
Tigre region president Debreshan Gebremichael blamed the Ethiopian government and its allies for suffering over the past year. “The warlords decided to continue the war, and we entered this war because the only option we had was to destroy our enemies by force.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price called on all warring sides to end the fighting and protect the lives and rights of civilians. He said the State Department has now updated the travel advisory for Ethiopia to Level 4.
“What this means is that we are advising US citizens not to travel to Ethiopia,” Price said. “We are recommending that US citizens in Ethiopia consider departing now using available commercial options.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the year-long conflict was marked by “extreme brutality”.
“We have reasonable grounds to believe that during this period, all sides of the Tigre conflict have committed violations of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law,” the UN human rights chief said during a press briefing on Wednesday. “Some of it may be war crimes and crimes against humanity. Citizens in Tigre have been subjected to brutal violence and suffering.”
A joint report by the UN Human Rights Office and the government-produced Ethiopian Human Rights Commission found that sexual violence in the conflict has been rampant, detailing reports of gang rapes by various parties against women and girls, but not men. And against the boys too.
According to the United Nations, the annual conflict has famined nearly 400,000 people in the Tigre region, killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 2.5 million people to flee their homes in the north.
Some information in this report has been received from Reuters.