A newly formed alliance of Ethiopian factions said on Friday it aims to bring down the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed by force or by negotiation and to form a transitional administration.
The Ethiopian government dismissed the alliance as a publicity stunt and said some groups in it had a history of ethnic violence.
The alliance was announced by faction leaders in Washington despite calls from African and Western leaders for a ceasefire in the war, which pits the central government against the northern-based Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and its allies.
With the rebel forces threatening to move on the capital Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian army on Friday called on former personnel to rejoin the military to fight them, state media said.
Could Ethiopia’s capital fall to Tigrayan and allied forces?
In a further sign of growing international concern, the U.S. embassy advised all U.S. citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible.
“The security environment in Ethiopia is very fluid,” the embassy said in a statement.
The year-long war has killed thousands of people and forced more than two million more from their homes. It has intensified in recent weeks.
Announcing the formation of the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces at an event in Washington, the alliance said it was setting up a command to co-ordinate its military and political efforts.
“The next step will be to organize ourselves and totally dismantle the existing government, either by force or by negotiation … then insert a transitional government,” said Mahamud Ugas Muhumed of Somali State Resistance.
The pact expands an existing agreement between the TPLF and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), organizers said, and includes nine groups which all have armed units.
“We’re trying to bring an end to this terrible situation in Ethiopia, which is created single-handedly by the Abiy government,” said Berhane Gebrekristos, a TPLF leader and former Ethiopian ambassador to the United States. “Time is running out for him.”
Mr. Abiy’s spokesperson, Billene Seyoum, asked for reaction, referred Reuters to a comment she posted on Twitter in which she defended Mr. Abiy’s rule since he took office in 2018.
She said in the post: “The opening up of the political space [after Mr. Abiy’s appointment] three years ago provided ample opportunity for contenders to settle their differences at the ballot box in June 2021.”
Mr. Abiy’s party was re-elected by a landslide in June. She did not refer directly to the new alliance.
Ethiopian Attorney-General Gedion Temothewos called the alliance “a publicity stunt” and said some of the groups had a track record of “ethnic cleansing”.
The conflict started a year ago when forces loyal to the TPLF, including some soldiers, seized military bases in Tigray. In response, Mr. Abiy sent more troops to the northern region.
The TPLF had dominated national politics for nearly three decades but lost much influence when Mr. Abiy took office in 2018.
The TPLF accused him of centralizing power at the expense of regional states. Mr. Abiy denies this.
The TPLF and the OLA told Reuters they are now in the town of Kemise in Amhara state, 325 kilometres from the capital.
It was not possible to independently confirm claims made by either side as communications in the area are down.
On Thursday the government accused the Tigrayan forces of exaggerating their territorial gains.
The TPLF had said on Tuesday its forces were closing in on the town of Mille, which would enable them to cut off the highway linking neighbouring Djibouti to Addis Ababa.
On Friday, government spokesperson Legesse Tulu rejected the claim, saying fighting was 80 kilometres from Mille. He had not responded to earlier requests for comment.
He also said there was fighting at least 100 kilometres north of Shewa Robit, a town in the Amhara region that is on the A2 highway, which links the capital to Ethiopia’s north. That would put fighting about 57 kilometres south of Kombulcha, one of two towns that the TPLF said it captured last weekend.
The government said on Friday that a TPLF commander, Colonel Guesh Gebrehiwot, was captured on Thursday during fighting near Dessie, in Amhara. The TPLF was unreachable for comment.
At a market on Addis Ababa’s outskirts, traders went about their business as usual but fewer people were coming to shop.
Vegetable seller Abdisa Wili, 32, said prices were rising.
“If the war is going to continue, it will have impact on the economy,” he said. “Both sides should stop the war, no one will profit from war except death and economic downfall. They should solve the problem through discussion.”
State-affiliated Fana TV reported that thousands of people took to the streets on Friday for pro-government rallies in at least seven towns and cities in Oromiya region, which surrounds Addis Ababa. The region is divided – Mr. Abiy is part Oromo and support from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group helped propel him to power. He lost some of that backing when security forces detained thousands of Oromos
Amnesty International said there has been an alarming rise in social media posts advocating violence. The rights group also said a state of emergency declared on Tuesday is overly broad and “a blueprint for escalating human rights violations”.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday called for a ceasefire, saying, “The conflict in Ethiopia must come to an end.”
Spokespersons for the Ethiopian government and the TPLF did not respond to requests for comment on Mr. Blinken’s call but the government’s communication department said in a statement, “This is not a Country that Crumbles under Foreign Propaganda! We are fighting an existential war!”
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